New Albany, MS – There’s been some heavy-duty horse-trading and arm wrestling in Jackson during recent days about the state flag of Mississippi.
The present flag, adopted 126 years ago, has been a growing source of bitter division for several years. It consists of three stripes – red, white and blue, top to bottom – with a square Confederate naval ensign in the upper left.
The naval ensign element of the current flag design was never the national flag of the Confederate States of America. Nor, strictly speaking, was it ever the “battle flag” of all Confederate Armies. General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the West, the rebel army that fought for the “lost cause” in this part of the country, used a 2:3 ratio rectangular flag of similar design as its “battle flag.” Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia did use a square battle flag for much of the war that was quite similar to the square in the upper left of the Mississippi flag.
Thus, well informed people could dispute for days about whether the current, official Mississippi flag has a meaningful and authentic connection with the antebellum South.
Those arguments will always confound satisfactory resolution.
The meaningful issue today comes down to a simple question: Is the 1894 design of the official flag a good thing for Mississippi, now and in the future? That’s the only relevant argument in 2020.
The most powerful argument for keeping the old flag comes down to one word: “TRADITION.” As in the song the character Tevye sings in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” tradition is its own self-evident argument, irrefutable and undeniable.
The question is: Whose tradition? Is the Confederate Naval ensign on the state flag your happy tradition? Is it the happy tradition of every Mississippian? Clearly it is a symbol, a tradition that is offensive in varying degrees to at least half the people in the state.
The tangible reasons for adopting a flag without the Confederate naval ensign can be grouped under the word economics. Industries have voiced reluctance to make new investments in Mississippi as long as the old flag remains. The NCAA has made it more than clear that the state’s university athletics program will suffer huge monetary losses if the 1894 flag remains the official state symbol. Athletic directors and coaches from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alcorn, Jackson State, Delta State, Southern Miss – all the state’s secondary schools – pled early this week with the legislature to change the flag.
In responses to questions from the news website MississippiToday.Org, only a few Republican members in the state House and Senate and zero Democrats say they are in favor keeping the old flag. Most in that poll are “on the fence,” either saying the question should be put to a general referendum or giving no response to the question.
However, Lieutenant-Governor Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Phillip Gunn are busily testing the waters to see if they can put the question to a vote of the legislature before the current legislative session ends. Our sources tell us Hosemann and Gunn will put it to a vote if they are sure of enough votes to change the flag. If they are not sure, they are expected to put the question off to another day.
It’s said to be very close, and a vote could come today or tomorrow.
One previously uncommitted member of the House gave the following statement to NEMISS.NEWS a couple of days ago: “I was raised to obey the Golden Rule,” said State Representative Sam Creekmore IV,“ and I believe in it. I know the old flag offends a lot of people. Putting myself in their place, I understand why they are offended. I believe OUR flag should be unifying, not a symbol that divides us.
“I also know the current state flag hurts our chances of recruiting new industry. We just lost two major industries in my district and we need to do everything we can to recruit new ones.”
Creekmore told NEMISS.NEWS there is not currently a bill or resolution in the House dealing with the flag issue.
“I know this is a representative republic, not a direct democracy. So, if it comes up for a vote in the House, I believe it is my job and vote on it.”
State Senator Chad McMahan of Gunntown is listed in the MississippiToday.Org tally as favoring putting the question to a referendum. McMahan is a friend, but we have not talked with him for several weeks and do not know if he still holds that position.
State Senator Kathy Chism of New Albany told us a couple of days ago she favors a referendum, rather than a vote in the legislature. Senator Chism’s position is a reasonable one. Whether she changes her mind regarding putting it to a vote in the state Senate, we believe she will consider what she believes is best for her constituents in Union and Pontotoc County. As a freshman member of the Senate, following – or not following – the leadership she gets from Lieutenant-Governor Hosemann is a major consideration. Her effectiveness for the remainder of this term or any future term to which she may be elected, her ability to get things done for her constituents, will be greatly influenced by how she stands with Hosemann and other senior Senate leaders.The memories of smart legislative leaders are always very long, and Hosemann is widely considered, by both Republicans and Democrats, the smartest man in Jackson.
Although some Republican members of both houses know a vote to change the flag would not set well with some of their constituents, many believe they are wiser to do it now rather than later. They do not have to stand for re-election for another 41 months. For elected representatives, taking a stand that a few voters may not like is always more safely done early in a term.Lt governor Delbert Hosemann, Mississippi Flag, MS politics, MS Rep. Sam Creekmore IV, MS Senator Kathy Chism, MS Speaker Philip Gunn, Northeast MS news, Senator Chad McMahan