In 1954, the 1892 U.S. flag pledge was amended to read, “One nation under God,” forging the “melting pot” based on Aesop’s maxim, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
Now, writing this missive while natural devastation occurs in Texas and again, to some degree, in Petal, in this context, the writer, a Vietnam War veteran, reflects on picking cotton from Smith County to Wayne in the 1950s in August to earn money before school started in September. This experience elucidated the so-called “heritage and history” of the 64.39 percent of Mississippi voting population proclaiming the state flag as such. It is Alexander Stephens’ notion of the Confederacy, as Otto Kerner reported in 1967, “Two societies, one Black and one White ‘separate but unequal,’” symbolized in the Mississippi state flag.
As Frederick Douglass said in 1852, “I am not included. This … is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…” with families of Emmett Till, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, Oneal Moore, Vernon Dahmer and many others of the 1950s -’60s, plus the families of the 534 Negroes lynched in Mississippi from 1882-1952.
Now, if Mississippi Whites — morals and ethics aside —are logical, rational-minded, reasonable people proclaiming “heritage and history,” albeit baneful, they know “Jim Crow” is the intrinsic nature in the origin of the 1894 flag, which is pernicious to Blacks, as seen in Charlottesville, Va. This so-called “heritage and history” are smoke screens of racism and hate. And, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s position, “let the people decide,” is the moral equivalence of Gov. Ross Barnett’s 1961 “keep faith with the people — ‘NEVER’” on Ole Miss desegregation. It is the die-hardism of Mississippi Redeemers!
Further, Mississippi’s flag is more than “just a piece of cloth.” The late Dr. Francis Cress-Welsing, “a brilliant psychiatrist,” said, it “acts as a stirring rod that agitates the unconscious, sending out energy responses in the form of thought, speech, action and emotion” — as shown by White supremacist Christopher Cantwell and others with swastikas and rebel flags Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, where 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed by a car driven by Cantwell’s 20-year-old compatriot James Alex Fields Jr..
So, critically analyzing race-hate-filled events in Mississippi, like that of White supremacist Ernest Ray McElveen of Tylertown in 1965, identified by his Confederate flag as the killer of Deputy Oneal Moore, and Larry Wayne Shoemake in 1996 with ties in Laurel, with his gun arsenal, swastika, rebel flag, skull and crossbones (attachment) shot eight Black people in Jackson — thus, one must use logic, rationality and reasoning in reading and comprehending Mississippi history to avert fallacies, contradictions, ambiguities and invalid conclusions drawn from the oxymoron that Mississippi state flag is “our heritage and history,” which some Whites fallaciously interchange with Black history. Mutually switching slave and master is a fallacy.
Four years after Mississippi 1890 Constitution — disenfranchising Blacks — Mississippi flag was designed to symbolize principles amenable to the Confederacy, as Vice President Alexander Stephens declared in 1861, it is “A nation whose cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. The truth is our leaders and public do not desire to continue the Union on any Mississippi” — Mississippi Whites’ “heritage and history.”
Slavery was the Southern way of life. After losing the War of the Rebellion, antebellum nostalgia yearned for times when Blacks were considered only “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” when the domestic slave trade supplied the “Cotton Kingdom” with Negroes bred like farm animals and sold like supplies and other commodities on auction blocks in Natchez. This is the “heritage and history” the flag propagates.
Mississippi was one of the greatest cotton-growing districts in the world. And, in 1860, of “791,305 people in the state, 436,631 (55 percent) were Negroes.” And, from 1840 (56.3 percent) to 1940 (49.2 percent), Blacks outnumbered Whites. When the 1890 Constitution was established, solely “to exclude the Negro,” Blacks made up 57.7 percent of the population. In 1930 during the Depression, at 50.2 percent, Blacks began the “Black Exodus” to escape the atrocities of Jim Crow — reducing Mississippi’ Black population, as Nina Simone sang in 1964, “Mississippi Goddam!!!” William Weaks “Willie” Morris in 1967 followed Simone, denouncing formidable Jim Crow in Mississippi Delta in “North Toward Home.”
In Mississippi, “the growth of cotton depended upon Negro labor (as the writer experienced in the 1950s). The Negroes had been brought into the state as slaves. Their total value was two and one half (2½) times the value of all the lands and other property. The loss of this slave property would make the people poor and reduce the value of their lands.”
With abolition hovering, Mississippians convened in Jackson and declared a Cause of Secession on Jan. 7, 1861. On Jan. 9, delegates approved the Ordinance of Secession by a vote of 84-15, signed by 98 of the 100 delegates to “get protection of their property.” Lest, “the people would lose four billion dollars’ worth of property. They thought the Revolutionary War had been fought with less cause.”
So, first S.C., then Mississippi seceded followed by nine other states, starting the four-year “belligerency” on April 12, 1861, resulting into the “lost cause” to propagate the “nefarious institution” — ending April 9, 1865. As a result, yet, with animosity, neo-secessionists and White Supremacists — like Jefferson Davis’ Redeemers — in 2017, parade with rebel flags and swastikas signaling, “‘The South shall rise again,’” touting, …’Jews will not replace us!’” And, by extension, these touts apply to Blacks and other minorities.
With this palpable racism — looking at the volatility in the world — Mississippi flag diehards show the same thinking as Kim Jong-un. The absurdity of Mississippi flag as the “heritage and history” of Blacks, in reality, is the antebellum notion of the agrarian South with groveling slaves truckling about “the big house” and in the fields picking cotton and hoeing crops in Alexander Stephens’ paradigm.
Flag supporters mock King George III — the symbol of English oppression — who expected the island 6,000 miles across the Atlantic — to perpetually govern the North American continent as a “royal brute.” Similarly, Whites assert Mississippi state flag is Blacks’ history, too. Ironically, conversely to Whites, it is symbolic of slaves bred like cattle on plantations and sold on auction blocks in Natchez.
Like King George’s oppressive Acts were bad ideas, the Confederacy was too, according to James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association: “The aftermath of the tragedy in Charlottesville has stripped the facade from a landscape of national conflict; but it has also provided an opportunity. On the one hand, we see an apparent tolerance for ‘historical ignorance,’ but on the other, there is renewed national interest in the subtleties of history and memory. Large portions of the American public don’t know the history of the Confederacy, the Civil War…
“The tragedy is the refusal of our President to utter one simple sentence: ‘The Confederacy was a bad idea.’ As a historian, I think we should all be able to agree that Alexander Stephens accurately summarized the individual Confederate states’ declarations of secession. Imagine if all 535 members of Congress and the President of the United States would just say, ‘The Confederacy is a bad idea.’” And, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant should come to grips with the fallacy of Mississippi state flag as “heritage and history.” Shoemake, McElveen and their ilk personify that “heritage and history”–racism, hatred!
Harvey Warren lives in Laurel.