Mississippi should move past ‘symbol’

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 30, 2000

Imagine a business executive considering the relocation of his business to Mississippi. The first thing he sees stepping off the airplane is a symbol flying high overhead, right next to the American Flag. Now imagine the symbol is a Nazi Swastika. Sounds preposterous, right?

Perhaps, but for many people that’s exactly the type of hate-related symbol they see when their eyes zero in on the current Mississippi state flag – which contains a portion of the Confederate battle flag

Many people would say the comparison is extreme, but in reality the two symbols are quite similar. Both were harmless symbols until adopted by harmful groups of people.

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Historians tell us the swastika – a Greek cross with the ends of the arms bent at right angles – was considered a symbol of good luck for thousands of years by millions of people in several different continents. In a variety of cultures the swastika was as common as the image of four-leaf clover is today.

In fact, before the Nazis adopted the swastika in the 1930s the 45th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army used one as their symbol. It was emblazoned on every division member’s uniform.

Similarly, the Confederate battle flag has also received a bad rap in its relatively short history.

Embraced by hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups, the Confederate flag’s reputation has been ruined.

A quick glance at photographs from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s will almost always reveal images of Klansmen and other segregationists proudly waving a flag that was, in fact, something Southerners could take pride in.

Is the flag itself the root of all evil?

Most certainly not.

Does it represent racists views?

To some people, it does. To the historic defenders of the flag, it does not. That difference of views is exactly why Mississippi needs to change the present flag.

In a state that bears the motto, &uot;The Hospitality State,&uot; why would anyone want to keep a state-sponsored symbol that greatly offends a large segment of citizens?

Confederate groups will argue that it represent the legacy and history of the South and the men who died fighting for their honor and way of life. They are right. To them, that’s exactly what the flag represents.

Unfortunately to millions of Americans who have seen hundreds of hooded Klansmen proudly waving the banner, it represents the most wicked hatred imaginable. It isn’t the flag’s fault.

The flag, and the people who are fighting to keep it waving, are simply victims, not unlike the once benign swastika.

Whip out a Confederate flag – or the Mississippi flag – anywhere in the United State outside the South and people expect a white robe and racist views to follow close behind. It shouldn’t conjure up such nonsense, but it does. Denying that fact is difficult.

The flag is merely a symbol. It shouldn’t be banished. It should be heralded by those historians who want to keep the past alive. But Confederate flag or any portion of it should not be a state-sponsored, state-supported endeavor.

Not flying it in an official capacity does not diminish the bravery or memory of the men who died fighting beneath it more than 140 years ago. When considering the Mississippi flag issue, think of those Confederate soldiers and why they were fighting. Was it for a flag?

Consider the men of the 45th Infantry Division. Did they cry over having to rip the tainted swastika off their uniforms before World War II? If they did, it wasn’t for long as they went on to fight valiantly in every war America has been involved in since then.

And that’s exactly what Mississippians should do too. Quit fighting for a flag that has, unfortunately, been tainted by hatred, and move on with our lives.

Kevin Cooper is managing editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.