In 2016 Governor Phil Bryant signed a proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month. On March 31, 2017, Bryant declared April 24 Confederate Memorial Day, following suit alongside Alabama “to honor those who served in the Confederacy.”
Bryant’s decision to honor those on the wrong side of history, those who were pro-slavery, is certainly not reflective of what I, as a black Mississippian, want to showcase about Mississippi. From what I have seen during my short time here at The University of Southern Mississippi, most students (regardless of race) do not care to celebrate the Confederacy either. Thankfully, the advocates of flying the Confederate flag are in the minority and can be seen only during the weekends in front of USM.
That being said, I am tired of conversations and debates over what the Civil War was fought over – states’ rights or slavery – and whether we should honor those who fought on the South’s behalf. I am becoming indifferent towards all things celebrated about the Confederacy. This is largely due to the lack of support I have seen for the Confederacy in my day-to-day life. No, Facebook trolls do not count.
I am proud to attend a school and be in a state where all public universities do not fly the state flag, which features the Confederate symbol. As USM President Rodney Bennett said in a statement regarding his decision to remove the state flag from campus, “I am looking forward to a time when this debate is resolved, and USM raises a state flag that unites us.”
Because those in charge of educational institutions are able to acknowledge that our flag causes nothing but disagreement and unnecessary tension, students from all backgrounds, but most importantly, African-American students, are able to feel welcomed while pursuing higher education.
In addition, the City of Biloxi made an even bigger step this past weekend by removing the state flag from all city buildings. Vincent Creel, spokesperson for City of Biloxi Public Affairs, said Biloxi is welcoming to everyone.
“We have 5.7 million visitors a year, and we don’t want anything that’s going to give people pause to coming to Biloxi or the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Creel said.
Creel’s statement with the backing of Biloxi officials and educators serves as proof that Mississippi leaders are actively trying to change Mississippi’s racist reputation to attract people from other states with more liberal ideologies.
In the proclamation for Confederate Memorial Day, Bryant said, “It is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and successes and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow if we carefully and earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities which lie before us.”
Perhaps if this proclamation encouraged for the Civil War to be taught in a more honest manner in K-12 history classes, I would accept Bryant’s statement. However, because children are currently learning and blindly accepting that the Civil War was fought to preserve states’ rights, no insight is being gained.
By viewing Mississippi’s casus bellim, literally “case of war,” on civilwar.org, one can find where Mississippi explicitly stated that they would like to secede from the United States because Lincoln threatened the future of slavery. The second sentence of the declaration states, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.”
It goes on to say that advocating for “negro equality” is wrong, and that the Union is attempting to “ruin our agriculture” due to “none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.”
This public document proves that white men in the south were not only racist, but also lazy. Therefore, telling me that those in favor of fighting for the Confederacy and celebrating their failed efforts today is necessary to “appreciate our heritage” is a waste of time. When Bryant and other government officials do more than use this ridiculous holiday to take a day off of work, then maybe Bryant’s words will sound slightly sincere. Sadly, I do not see that happening anytime soon.
But frankly, Confederate Memorial Day and Confederate History Month do not personally affect me. They are certainly not stopping me from pursuing an education or a career. I have grown used to the underlying racist tone of our government officials who choose to deny the main cause of the Civil War and reiterate their denial through the passing of new holidays.
For that reason, I do not blame anyone who refuses to believe that Mississippi is welcoming to all people. I personally am not begging for an influx of people to visit or decide to live here, and it is not our jobs as citizens to convince people to do so. It is up to representatives of Mississippi like Bryant to change Mississippi’s image by leaving Confederate symbols behind in museums and leading honest discussions about the Civil War if they ever plan to change Mississippi’s image.