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Confederate flag represents our past

By TJ Ray

Many times he sat on the steps at the old courthouse with his state flag on a staff beside him. He defended its inclusion of the Confederate stars and stripes. He was an African American fellow and he was murdered, probably because of that flag.

The following paragraphs were written a while back, but the issue presented hasn’t gone away. The Legislature adjourned once again without taking any action on the creation of a new state flag. Taking no stand is to leave decisions about the flying of our state flag up to college presidents and elected boards around the state. And those bodies, to date, have generally acted with no vote of their constituents.

As history is much in the news these days — particularly trying to pull the old Russian stunt of rewriting history by deleting much of it from the record — maybe it’s not too late to mention a referendum that was on the ballot in Mississippi in 2001. The object of the referendum was to ascertain whether citizens wished to keep the then-current state flag or replace it with a new design. A whopping 65 percent of the voters chose the former.

Thus, the present flag is the official flag, not only because it was once adopted by the legislature and endorsed by a governor, but also because the citizens endorsed it in a significant way.

I don’t recall the arguments for even holding that referendum 14 years ago. Probably there were folks who took offense at the flag. Certainly these days many people are passionate about the flag, seeing it as a symbol of a difficult period in our country’s history. I’d encourage them to ask for another statewide referendum. After all, it is a state problem — not a city or county issue.

Until that referendum is held and the votes counted, the Mississippi state flag is the Mississippi state flag. A knee-jerk reaction to a non-verbalized protest is just plain uncalled for. Unless I have been asleep the last 44 years I have lived in Oxford, I don’t know where the protest and anger against the flag are to be found. None of the three newspapers printed in our community have overflowed with letters, editorials, or stories about the emblem. Thus, for an elected board to decide almost in a vacuum to make a public issue of the state flag strains my credulity.

When it was pointed out by the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce that multi-million dollar companies will not locate in Oxford because of the flag, it made good economic sense to remove that obstacle, that “neck tattoo” of the state. Well, slow down just a minute. What the man did not say is that Oxford has been booming for years, both with businesses and people locating here. Thanks to all our economic prosperity, there is almost no room for middle-class folks to find a place to live.

An interesting side story in all this is that state law requires state property and public schools to fly the flag. Thus the local schools must order flags and get them run up the pole.

When I read the first paragraph of the account of City of Oxford flag decision, I sent one of my friends who was content with the decision a single line: A sad day for Oxford

When his answer came, I responded by asking if he’d support removing the Confederate statue in front of the courthouse. For a long time, one has heard rumors of some people wanting to remove the statue on the Grove on campus. I’ve even heard that some people would go so far as removing the Confederate dead from the cemetery behind the Coliseum. His response was that statues are different than flags because they are there to represent the past. Guess what: the history that statue represents is the same one that flag represents.

Personally, I think the state flag is a lovely design. If it conjures up horrible aspects of that 19th-century conflict, I regret that. Should the legislature decide to get off its fat bottom and let us vote on whether a change is needed, I’d vote “yes” again. Until that time, the current flag is the official flag of the state of Mississippi. No local group has any business settling a statewide issue.

TJ Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.