Mississippi Dead Last Again

Assuming things move along in South Carolina as they now seem fore-ordained with the Governor and both U.S. Senators suddenly seeing the light on the Confederate Battle Flag amidst a torrent of relieved congratulations from national GOP figures and presidential candidates, then as soon as the legislature can act, Mississippi will stand alone as the last southern state with such insignia officially recognized, in its case a portion of the state flag. (Technically, as Ezra Klein points out, Georgia’s flag retains a Confederate flag design, but not the Battle Flag everyone recognizes).

The GOP Speaker of the Mississippi House, Phillip Gunn, has seen the handwriting on the wall and is suddenly calling for a change in the flag. GOP Governor Phil Bryant, citing the “will of the people” as expressed in a 2001 referendum on the subject, is opposing the change.

It’s a familiar issue in Mississippi, if only because the state’s flagship university, Ole Miss, banned flags in their stadium (where in the past many, many Confederate Battle Flags waved) and also got rid of the Colonel Rebel mascot who looked like a plantation owner (or, some said, Colonel Sanders). It goes to show that in many parts of the South college football recruiting trumps even economic development as a priority. But if the whole nation winds up focusing on Mississippi as the final refuge for the Confederate Battle Flag, even Ole Miss’ precautions may not work any more.

The great southern political historian V.O. Key once referred to Mississippi and South Carolina as the “Super-South,” the states where “old times there are not forgotten” in a huge way. They were also the only two states where slaves made up a majority of the population at the outbreak of the Civil War. It’s not surprising they are last to “look away” from the Dixie heritage that was revived with bristling symbols during the war of resistance against desegregation. Mississippi would be wise to move into the twenty-first century–or at least the late twentieth century–before it reinforces all the old stereotypes, and Ole Miss has a fresh recruiting problem.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.