The fight to change the Mississippi state flag is revealing there’s a lot of black people who would prefer to keep it the way it is, including the Confederate stars and bars some see as a symbol of racism.
“That’s our history. That tells people who we are. We’re Mississippians,” Corinthian Sanders, a black man, told WAPT. “It represented the Confederate States of America, not racism or the KKK. Those groups came and took and hijacked that flag like they hijacked the cross and the United States flag.”
The news site highlighted numerous black folks who are objecting to calls by other blacks to strip the state flag of the Confederate symbol that’s been in place since it was adopted in 1894. Competing ballot proposals – one to enshrine the current flag in the state constitution and another to remove the Confederate symbol – are expected for the 2018 ballot, but Gov. Phil Bryant has called on lawmakers to help decide the issue sooner, The Clarion-Ledger reports.
“I think they are trying to use the color of my skin – black – as an excuse to take down everything that is Confederate related,” Arlene Barnum, a flag supporter, told the WAPT.
She’s certainly not alone. The news station spoke with numerous black folks who provided very rational reasons for their support of the current state flag.
“It’s very obvious for me. I would like to see the state flag remain as it is for various reasons, but primarily I think it honors those who actually died during a very horrible war and I see no value in dishonoring those men,” said Al Arnold, author of a book on his great, great grandfather Turner Hall’s work as an orderly for Robert E. Lee and life as a former slave of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate lieutenant general.
Arnold told WAPT that millions of people trace their lineage through black and whites who fought proudly in the Confederate Army, and calls to erase their heritage is offensive.
“I say African Americans need to be a little bit more receptive to the fact that there are over 70 million descendants of those who fought in the Confederate armies, Mississippi just happens to be one of the last states to hold up that symbol to allow those individuals to honor their dead,” he said.
Arnold said he believes that if any flag symbolizes slavery, it’s the American flag.
“It was the United States flag, of America, that brought slaves over here for hundreds of years before the Confederate flag,” he said.
Some other black folks in Mississippi seemed receptive to other black residents who want to continue to honor their heritage with the state flag’s current design.
“For the African Americans who do feel as if we should keep the flag, I think they should voice their opinions more and tell everyone why,” an unidentified black woman told WAPT.
Otis Pickett, professor of early American history at Mississippi College, told the news site several thousand blacks fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, some were free and others slaves. He said it makes sense that their ancestors want to keep the flag untouched.
“History is complex … and you cannot say this did not happen,” Pickett said, noting that he believes most blacks sided with the union. “So there are going to be African Americans who participate in roles in the Confederacy.”
Meanwhile, some blacks who want to change the flag see no value in honoring the black soldiers who fought for the Confederacy, or preserving their Southern heritage.
“I have absolutely no idea why anyone would want to keep a divisive symbol that represents a minority in this state, in 2016,” black woman Christian Scott said.