March 18, 2001
Wechsler: A community center for the entire community
To the Editor:
The Wechsler Community Arts Center Association was formed to serve as a catalyst for the development of a community center that would serve the needs of the community, house its memorabilia and other artifacts deemed essential to our black heritage.
The Riley Foundation has given us funds to repair the roof, and fix the windows and electric lights in the auditorium. Mayor John Robert Smith has been supportive of our efforts. Supervisor Q.V. Sykes and Councilman Bobby Smith understand the potential and value the center offers to the community.
Fonda Rush, in her capacity as city historian, and Connie Royal, of the Arts Commission, have been very helpful in pointing us in the right direction as we seek to secure grants and other financial aid, by informing us as to what we could and could not do as we attempt to renovate the building.
Today, the Wechsler Community Arts Center Association's Board of Directors realizes the initial objectives were valid and should be pursued. We recognize the need for changes in the by-laws addressing these items:
1. To destroy the myth and misconception that this is an exclusive association in which only a select group of people may become members.
2. To show that any and all funds given to assist in the renovation and restoration of Wechsler are accountable.
3. To allow anyone desiring to help us achieve our goals to become a member.
4. To continue programs that will help us be successful in completing our mission, which is to make this complex a viable part of the community.
We believe one way to go forward is to invite you to come to our meetings, which are the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m., and see what we are doing and offer suggestions.
We understand that Wechsler can be very instrumental in helping our children and adults better themselves socially, educationally and economically, as well as developing a sense of well being.
As we seek to secure grants from various sources, it is imperative that the citizens of Meridian recognize they are a very important part of the process.
Remember, this is Meridian's community Center.
Jesse J. Brewster Jr.
President, Board of Directors
Wechsler Community Arts
Flag: Saddened by distorted view
To the Editor:
It is with sadness and increasing concern that I note the distorted and inadequate view of our history which is being promoted by those who oppose adoption of a new state flag. A typical version of this view was outlined in your article concerning a recent address by Hewitt Clark, claiming that the Civil War was not "about" slavery.
From the fight over protection of slave interests in the U. S. Constitution to the Missouri Compromise to "Bloody Kansas," Southern efforts to protect and expand slavery were at the heart of the long national crisis which ended in war. No competent historian could claim otherwise.
But more importantly, this concentration on the Civil War and the defense of those who fought bravely for the South serves to obscure the real history and context of our current state flag. The adoption of this flag in 1894 was the work of the triumphant proponents of the new virulent racism, which became dominant in Mississippi in the 1880's and 1890's.
Although Reconstruction and the hope of an equal society ended in the 1870's, there still remained some room for hope by African-Americans. Black men
continued to vote, and in 1890, there was still a number of black elected officials, including six members of the Legislature.
Alarmed by white politicians who courted the black vote and by some movement in Congress to protect voting rights, leaders of the movement for the constitutional convention openly proclaimed its purpose as the elimination of black participation in democracy. James K. Vardaman, who became governor under the new constitution and oversaw the approval of the new flag, was particularly blunt: "There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter. … Mississippi's constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n-' from politics."
This goal was brilliantly achieved by a variety of measures, including the poll tax, slanted residency requirements, literacy testing and disqualification of voters all without specific mention of race. This successful legal strategy was widely heralded as the "Mississippi Plan" and was copied throughout the South to install Jim Crow regimes which could withstand the scrutiny of federal courts.
Voter registration by African-Americans under the new constitution fell by 90 percent, and there were soon no black elected officials in the state. There followed an extended period in which black schools were stripped of tax money, black businesses were cut off from sources of credit, black farmers were prevented from buying good farmland, and black workers were excluded from access to better jobs. The criminal justice system, with all-white juries and judges elected by an all-white electorate, failed to punish whites who attacked blacks, while blacks accused of violence against whites did well if they received a speedy, biased trial rather than being lynched
It was in this context that the present flag was adopted. No significant legislative history exists for the creation of the flag. However, it seems clear that the insertion of the Confederate battle flag had little to do with honoring the Confederate dead, but was instead an emblem of the new "victory" of the white South and the new surrender of the North.
This emblem of our state is then a real expression of our heritage, not of the heritage of valor, but the heritage of hatred.
None of the supporters of the present flag cared anything about it until it was challenged. Even if the complaints of those who find the flag offensive were without factual basis, it would be the more prudent course to look for a symbol which could unite.
Those who consider themselves Christians would then follow the teaching of St. Paul and give up their claims rather than cause their brothers and sisters to stumble. But there is so, so much truth to the complaints.
We must forget none of our history the history which fills us with pride, the history which bows our heads in shame. We are Mississippians all, working together to build a better society in a new day. It is time to put away badges of oppression and separation and walk together in the light of truth.
The Rev. Canon Chuck Culpepper
St. Paul's Episcopal Church