The push to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi flag gained some surprising support this week. But it’s still difficult to envision a majority of either the Legislature or the voters approving the change.
On Tuesday the state’s 15 community college presidents, a group that presumably has a good read on the pulse of the state, put out a press release saying they had voted unanimously in favor of changing the state flag.
“We believe the flag of Mississippi should be one that unites all of us towards a prosperous future,” a press release said. “We believe now is the time for change to occur.”
That was surprising enough, but the real shocker was when the leaders of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, a conservative, largely white group representing 500,000 people and more than 2,000 churches, also got on board.
“While some may see the current flag as a celebration of heritage, a significant portion of our state sees it as a relic of racism and a symbol of hatred,” a convention statement said. “The racial overtones of this flag’s appearance make this discussion a moral issue.”
In two decades of debate, few statements for or against changing the Mississippi flag have been as eloquent as the Baptist Convention’s. It acknowledged the heritage of the Confederate battle flag — a defense with which many of the convention’s members will agree — but said the flag is too negative of a symbol.
The statement also framed the debate as a moral issue, which is an assessment that a religious organization is uniquely qualified to make. To an extent, the convention is providing cover for reluctant white members of the Legislature who might support a change.
With respect to the heritage argument, the Mississippi flag is no longer a unifying symbol. The Confederate battle flag once may have stood for something noble, but it got corrupted in the 20th century by segregationists determined to preserve power at any cost. They willfully chose to ignore federal laws and the moral arc of the universe — a decision the state pays for whenever the flag topic arises, as it has now.
Having said that, it is obvious that Mississippi is being pushed, elbowed and forced into seriously considering a new flag. And when someone is boxed in, that’s when they tend to lash out, fight back and resist. And that’s why, even with the support of the Baptist Convention and the community college presidents, it’s hard to see the flag changing soon.
White legislators apparently fear that voting for a new flag would put their jobs in jeopardy in two years. Otherwise they would have made the move long ago instead of relying on the results of the 2001 referendum. Assuming lawmakers still do not wish to vote on it, it’s also hard to believe that a flag referendum could be added to the upcoming November ballot.
This week’s announcements indicate that more leaders in Mississippi are coming around to the idea of a new flag. Our state tends to move slowly sometimes, so this is progress.