The Political Process Can Still Work

by Mike Halpin

When riots raged and cities burned, the political process was moving forward in the great state of Mississippi.

While mobs desecrated, defaced, pulled down, and otherwise destroyed monuments celebrating Southern generals, as well as the likes of Washington and Lincoln, the legislature in Mississippi was collectively weighing options and engaging in heated but ultimately civil discourse. That discourse led to legislation removing the Confederate flag emblem as an element of the Mississippi state flag and set in motion a process for the citizens of Mississippi to select a new flag—evidence that the political system can still work.

Presbyterian pastor and seminary professor J. Ligon Duncan responded to requests for his thoughts on the Mississippi state flag; here’s a sample of what he said:

I fully understand and appreciate that many good people of this great State view the Confederate Flag (the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia) merely as a symbol of heritage, and not as a sign of support for slavery and white supremacy. For many it represents a rejection of “political correctness,” reverence for ancestors, respect for the past, acknowledgment of our state’s history, and other perfectly understandable and laudable things.

However, as a historian, fully sympathetic to my people and our heritage, I have to say that the symbols of the Confederacy, represent not simply “the preservation of a way of life” and “States Rights,” but “States’ Rights to perpetuate chattel slavery, by denying Black people social and political equality”

We are asking almost half the population of our State to salute a symbol that has (undeniably) been used for well over a century to indicate their own Country’s and State’s rejection of their humanity and equality. That is utterly unconscionable.

…I do love my neighbors. All of them. And I want all of us, together, to be able to be proud of our State Flag.

Duncan summarized the emotions on both sides of the flag debate, then concluded correctly that the state flag should represent the state in its entirety, at least as much as any collective symbol can serve all those it represents. The Mississippi legislature and governor agreed with those sentiments and voted to end the use of the current flag with its Confederate image. New state flag options will be offered to the public in a statewide vote and a new flag chosen by a majority of Mississippians will fly over the state. The new flag will include the phrase “In God We Trust.”

The party and spirit of Lincoln (the legislature is overwhelmingly Republican, as is the Governor) acquitted itself well, and Mississippi’s flag will represent the state as it is today, not as it was before and after the Civil War, or under Jim Crow vestiges of racism.

A controversial, emotionally laden, and divisive issue was debated by elected representatives, legislation was passed and, without violence or mobs, a new symbol for the state of Mississippi is coming.

The political process can still work.

†Photo of Mississippi State Capitol Dome by Pieter van de Sande on Unsplash

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