Flag vote about future not the past

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 15, 2001

On Tuesday thousands of Mississippians will head to the polls to choose between two versions of the state flag.

One is the existing version, deemed offensive to some people because it contains a Confederate symbol. The other was approved by a governor-appointed flag commission tasked with replacing the controversial banner.

It’s amazing how something as simple as choosing a flag can become so complex.

In recent weeks I’ve talked with a few people who are adamant against changing the flag.

&uot;That flag hasn’t ever done a thing to me, so why change it,&uot; some say.

When did the flag become a living thing?

I suppose personifying the flag takes the human responsibility out of the picture for some folks who don’t want to face the reality of the past.

People who use this argument must want to forget that for decades hate groups have adopted the Confederate flag.

If the flag means so much to historians and non-hate group members, why haven’t we heard their protests through the years as the hate groups stained the banner’s image?

In large part they silently let this happen.

&uot;It’s our heritage. I didn’t own slaves and neither did my ancestors, so it’s not racist to me,&uot; other say.

Somehow, it seems, folks are missing the point here. By itself the flag doesn’t represent slavery any more than the early versions of the American flag did.

However the Confederate flag is a symbol that’s offensive to a sizable portion of our state’s population – and an even larger portion of people outside our state. And this is primarily caused by hate groups that have been allowed to use the symbol for their own selfish purposes.

When most non-Southerners look at the Confederate flag, they don’t see the heroic Southern men in gray fighting for their way of life.

Instead, the images it conjures up usually include Ku Klux Klan members and racist whites of the 1960s waving the flag proudly as they yelled at blacks who fought for their Constitutional rights. It’s an image that’s been burned into the world’s memory for years. A few lessons in history won’t erase those memories.

When I mark the ballot Tuesday, I’ll vote for the new flag, but not because I hate the present flag or because I resent my relatives who fought for the Confederacy.

I won’t vote for the new flag because blacks don’t like the current one or because it represents anything bad or evil to me.

I’ll vote for the flag for what other people – outside Mississippi’s borders – think about the flag.

Think about something.

Forty or 50 years ago Mississippi’s economy wasn’t greatly affected by what others thought about the state. Now as the economy has become more global, it does matter.

Changing the flag won’t solve the racial problems the state faces. And it won’t make us forget our own history.

But it might help dispel some myths about our state and its people that could help Mississippi progress economically. And, call me selfish, but if changing the flag will help move my home state ahead, I’m all for it.

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.