JACKSON, ma’am. – 8th grade student Ethan Lott has seen the Confederacy’s battle symbol many times, but he did not connect it to the Mississippi state flag.
The 13-year-old has discovered the emblem – a blue X on a red square with 13 white stars – on stickers and flags in front of several houses here. But it didn’t fly in his middle school, where there was only the US flag. Ethan thinks the state flag, including the Confederate emblem in the upper left corner, is just a “white person sometimes they don’t like blacks.”
It was not until the end of October, when the state was about to vote on a new flag, that he knew the symbol of the Confederation had officially represented Mississippi for decades.
“He was very surprised,”; said LaShunna McInnis, the principal of Powell Middle School, who discussed the flag with Ethan. “I can see it on his face.”
McInnis called Ethan to ask if he would participate in a school ceremony if voters chose the new flag.
In the years preceding the vote, the flag gradually disappeared from public schools in the capital Mississippi. So have some counties in the Mississippi River Delta, and in other parts of the state have lowered their Civil War flags, choosing only the US flag.
Most of these districts were almost entirely Black and led by Blacks. In these campuses, the leaders were against, or at least never favored, exhibiting a symbol that had long been regarded by many in the nation’s Blackest state as racist despite Mississippi law requires public schools to display the symbol.
Now, after Mississippi voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to replace the image of the flag of the Southern Union with an image with official flowers of the state, magnolia flowers and the phrase “In God We Trust” , schools that don’t like to fly the state flag are currently planning to hang it up for the first time in recent history.
McInnis, a black man, watched “The Dukes of Hazzard” grow up. As a child, she did not think much about the rebellious flag above “General Lee”, a prominent vehicle in the show named after General Robert E. Lee, the leader of the South Vietnamese army. But as principal of a school where almost all the students are black and some live with grandparents or elderly relatives living through Jim Crow South, or their parents, she thought other.
“Having the flag flying above will definitely be a source of stress,” she said.
Frank Figgers, vice president of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement’s Veterans, says some school districts may have lifted the state’s flag after the 1965 Civil Rights Voting Act was passed. Black’s voting power diversified the elected school councils, then quietly lowered the flag. Other schools, he said, could never show the banner even during secluded time.
Growing up in Mississippi in the 1960s, Cheryl Turner couldn’t escape the emblem that had been brought to battle by Confederate soldiers. Images are always fleeting. On the walk home from school as Turner and her siblings fetch pecans on the grounds of the state Capitol Building in Jackson, the state flag waving against the background.
The Confederacy’s shadow also covered her elementary school, which had just begun integrating recently when she started fifth grade there in 1966.
At the time, the campus was named after Jefferson Davis, president of the Southern Union. She was freed from the crowd that had assaulted Black Integrated schools in the town of Grenada in northern Mississippi that same year, but she still has painful memories. One white teacher questioned whether Turner and other black students could keep up with their lesson.
She is not sure if the state flag flies at her elementary school. But in college, she couldn’t miss it.
At the University of Mississippi, crowds waved insurgent flags like rosters inside the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium that she didn’t feel comfortable attending soccer games to see the home team nicknamed the Floating chaotic.
“As a student, I really felt the power of the flag for the first time,” she said.
The challenge of some public schools to decide to ignore state law and not fly the flag sparked a failed 2015 attempt by the State Legislature to potentially strip recognition. from such school districts. A white state representative told reporters the law was motivated by the absence of the flag at schools, The Clarion Ledger reported. The measure passed in the House Education Committee, but failed to become a law. In 2016, a woman sued a northern Mississippi school district in an attempt to force officials to fly a flag.
The Legislative’s shift from being able to punish counties for not flying the flag to its replacement happened amid widespread nationwide protests against racial injustice this summer. .
In June, thousands of people marched in downtown Jackson during one of the state’s biggest rallies in decades. A new state flag was among the requirements.
In July, Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, signed the law to replace the state flag. The law required the new design to be approved by voters with a mandate that included the phrase, “We believe in God” and the elimination of the Confederacy’s battle symbol.
On Wednesday, the day after Mississippi voters approved the new design, Ethan and McInnis attended two small flag-raising ceremonies at Powell Middle School and in the district’s central office.
Ethan’s grandfather attended and generations have seen a junior ROTC unit from Forest High School lift the flag on the poles. There was a respectful silence as the banner waved in the wind.
The new flag flew for only a day at Powell, as school officials waited until January for the Legislature to officially approve it. Because of the pandemic, Jackson students will not return to live classes before the end of this year. Ethan hopes that when schools reopen, a new flag will be there to welcome them.
“Learning about your past history is always important to building your future,” says Ethan. “It used to represent our state.” He wants his classmates and the next generation to know “steps taken to change the state flag”.
Turner was grateful that the young people of Mississippines wouldn’t grow up in the shadow of Old South like she did.
In 2017, students, parents, and educators voted to rename Jefferson Davis Elementary School, her alma mater, named after the President of the Southern Union, to Barack Obama Magnet School, to honor the nation’s first black president.
Now, Turner has a sign adorned with a new state flag in her front yard. She thanks her 7-year-old niece, Kaylen, and her little nephew, Ian, won’t have to face the remains of the South’s worst breaches. The flagpole outside of their school will not have a Civil War emblem. Her school name will not honor the Confederacy.
“No one will know in a short while that this school is named Jefferson Davis,” she reflected. “They will only know it’s Barack Obama. That’s all she knows. It’s great that they wouldn’t have that connection with a Southern Union relic. “