This memorandum is offered to suggest a path forward for Mississippi Republicans to lead the charge in finally removing from our state flag the representation of the Confederate battle flag (sometimes also called the “Beauregard flag”). Our bicentennial year as a state provides the perfect framework to do so.
This memo is not intended to be a historical overview of the flag, or an indictment of those who prefer the status quo. Instead, it is a call for Mississippi Republicans to lead the way in a change that will make a strong, moral statement that we acknowledge and understand the reasons why our current state flag is divisive and hurtful to a significant number of our fellow Mississippians, and that will proclaim to the nation that the bicentennial Mississippi of 2017 is not the Mississippi of 1965, let alone the Mississippi of 1865 or 1890.
Mississippi Republicans had no part in the state-sanctioned slavery of the 19th century, or the state-sponsored Jim Crow laws of the 20th century. Today, in the 21st century, Mississippi Republicans have a grand opportunity to strike a blow for unity and the future, by leading the charge to strike the Confederate battle flag that represents such dark days in the history of our state.
Some argue that respect for their “heritage” requires that we keep the old state flag as it is. Others are concerned that changing the state flag is somehow the same as trying to erase history, and will lead to more change. And, of course, all of us recognize the flag issue is a hugely volatile and highly polarizing political issue, as, frankly, are most changes that need to be made.
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But the simple fact is the flag itself is highly polarizing, when the whole purpose of a state flag is to provide a symbol of unity, around which all our state’s citizens should be proud to rally. Arguments that Confederate monuments and the like will be the next to fall if we change the flag don’t wash. The state flag is different from monuments, street names, portraits, headstones and the like, because the state flag is supposed to be a symbol of all Mississippians’ civic identity. Sadly, we just cannot say that it is today.
In addition, removing the Confederate symbol from the state flag is not a First Amendment or freedom of expression issue. Anyone who wishes may continue to wave the Confederate battle flag as high as he likes, or for that matter, project a giant image of it on his house at night if he wants. Our argument is not that individual Mississippians should be denied the right to wave any flag they wish, only that the state of Mississippi should not reflect the Confederate symbol on our state flag as a statement of who we are — and where we are — as we complete our 200th year as one of the United States of America.
Mississippi Republicans can today demonstrate that we understand that leadership is not simply taking people where they want to go, or even “letting the people vote” on hard issues. Sometimes, leadership requires encouraging and urging people to go where they should, even when they don’t particularly want to go there. Mississippi Republicans have a powerful opportunity to lead now on the issue of the state flag, and we should.
I am asking the Mississippi Republican State Central Committee and our County Executive Committees around the state, the Mississippi Republican Women’s Federation and its chapters around the state, and the Mississippi Federation of College Republicans and its chapters around the state to adopt resolutions calling on Mississippi Republican officeholders to lead the charge for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from our state flag.
I ask that Mississippi Republican legislators declare their intention to lead in the 2018 regular session of the Legislature by co-authoring and pre-filing bills this fall to strike the Confederate battle flag by statute.
And I ask that our Republican statewide elected officials and at all levels of government stand in favor of making this extremely important change for the future of our state.
Together, we can do this now.
We can lead into the future.
And we should.
Andy Taggart, an attorney with Taggart, Rimes & Graham PLLC, was chief of staff for Gov. Kirk Fordice.