State flag election: A defining moment
April 15, 2001
Against the backdrop of Easter Sunday 2001, Mississippians find themselves two days away from what surely will be defining moment in our history: the flag election. Emotions run high. Should voters confirm the old or embrace the new? There is talk of division, injustice, bias and prejudice, dignity, respect, heritage, honor and history.
Truth is, nothing can change the symbols on which history rests because history itself cannot be changed. Nor should Mississippians today be apologists for the misbehavior of radical outcasts who usurp these symbols for their own narrow and selfish motives. They can carry their own crosses.
To many proud Mississippians, the current flag represents honor, dignity, heritage and respect for ancestors who fought to preserve their way of life. To many proud African-American Mississippians, the current flag is a symbol of racial bigotry, discrimination and a harsh reminder that, in the old South, their ancestors were enslaved.
For people in whom beliefs are deeply embedded, this is an easy decision. For many, however, it is an agonizing one. Some will say, enough is enough. Schools are deteriorating, neighborhoods blighted, jails overcrowded. How much longer must Mississippians endure changes brought on by an insatiable appetite to change simply to right perceived wrongs.
Others will plead it's time for Mississippians to come together. Today, their eggs are all in one basket, the one marked "flag." If we can only change the flag, they say, we can begin to change our culture. We can move toward racial conciliation if we can only get past this single issue.
One thing makes Tuesday's referendum different. Unlike past edicts handed down by federal courts, this will be a vote of the people. Each of us truly has a voice and to make our voice heard each of us must explore the depths of his or her own conscience.
Should the new flag design be endorsed, the current flag will remain an historic banner. No names will be scratched from Confederate monuments, no counties will have to renamed, not without a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature.
Should the current flag be confirmed, there will be no resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, just as there should be no economic boycotts. The sun will rise on Wednesday morning, and Mississippians will return to work secure in the knowledge they voted their convictions.
We are a proud people, all of us, Asians, black, Hispanic, Jewish, Native American, white. Each of us has the opportunity to express our own free will at the ballot box, and while one could argue over the mechanics that's about as fundamental as it gets in America.
There are so many good reasons to live in Mississippi today, so many wonderful things about Mississippi's heritage in arts and literature and science and business. These attributes are best when shared with the world.
Win or lose on Tuesday, we must courageously accept the verdict of the people. And let the country judge us not on our shortcomings, as it so often does, but on our dignity, courage and humility for facing the issue.
By the will of the people, the decision will be made.