This is a historic time in Mississippi. This week, both the state House and Senate passed a bill with more than a two-thirds majority to remove the current state flag that features the Confederate flag in the canton, and the governor signed it into law. A new flag will be designed by a commission and voted on by the public in November. The bill says that the new flag design may not contain the Confederate flag and must include the words “In God We Trust,” which means the flag will still be problematic, but it will be an improvement. Make no mistake, this is a momentous occasion, yet a lot still needs to be done.
I wish the new flag would mean that Mississippi is finally a more progressive place. It is, and it is not. For instance, during the debate in the Senate, one senator asked whether other Confederate symbols could be used on the new flag, mentioning Georgia’s flag, which is based on the Stars and Bars flag of the Confederate States. Of course, the answer was ‘yes,’ since the wording of the bill does not prohibit anything other than the Confederate battle flag. I would hope that the commission will design a flag that is more inclusive, but even if it does, it is limited by the bill and must create a flag that represents religious intollerance: “In God We Trust” presumes a monotheistic religion and arguably privileges Christianity over other monotheistic religions. Whatever ends up as our new flag, it will be a compromise, and there will be some who try to resist change.
On the other hand, there are many, many people of good will who are working hard to make Mississippi a better, more tolerant state for all of its people. This week, the legislature also put a resolution on the November ballot to change the state’s constitution so that the Governor and other state-wide offices may be elected by the popular vote. Now, they must be elected by the popular vote and by a majority of voting districts; otherwise the House of Representatives gets to select the winner. This means that a candidate who loses the election could still be installed in office by the legislature, and it is a provision that was specifically implemented in the consitution to limit the power of Black voters. Taking this step to change the constitution is just as important as changing the flag, and may have longer-reaching effects, but it won’t happen unless enough people come out in support of the resolution in November — all the more reason to register and vote!
And beyond that, much work remains to be done in Mississippi. Income inequality and education remain huge issues. Access to adequate health care and even food is a problem in many areas of our state. Our prison population is much too high and the conditions in prisons are terrible. All the problems with policing that are issues across the country are magnified in Mississippi. Our legislature has a Republican super-majority in both houses, thanks to voter suppression and gerrymandering. It’s not likely that radical change will happen anytime soon.
Still, the fact that Mississippi could change its flag when the opposition has so much power is absolutely amazing. It is a beginning, but it is only a beginning. Change in Mississippi can be a long time coming. This is a sign that it is coming. We can celebrate the victory, but the struggle is far from over.