“I know healing will not happen by a bill or by a politician or by a legislative body,” said Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) after signing a bill on June 30 that replaces the state’s Confederate flag.
On Tuesday, Reeves’ decision marked a historic milestone by removing a symbol that has sustained the Confederate heritage in the country for more than a century, and removing the only flag that still carried such an emblem.
Although the design of the new flag will be determined later, state lawmakers have forbidden it to include the most recognized icon of the Confederacy, often associated with racism, slavery, and oppression, according to The Washington Post.
“This is not a political moment to me but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together and move on,” Reeves said at a ceremony at which he signed the measure Tuesday evening. “A flag is a symbol of our past, our present and our future. For those reasons, we need a new symbol.”
Reeves’ signature was the latest achievement of a social revolution triggered by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, and in the midst of a public health crisis that has demonstrated the profound racial inequalities perpetuated in the country.
To the surprise of many, and although it was not an easy decision, state legislators debated over the weekend between dismantling a symbol of hate and preserving a historical episode. In the end, the majority vote approved the removal of the Confederate trace in the state’s identity.
“This is a new day for Mississippi,” State House Speaker Philip Gunn (R), who had backed a change for years, said Monday morning on MSNBC while standing in front of a man waving the state’s now-former flag. “We are not disregarding our heritage, we’re not ignoring the past, but we are embracing the future here.”
Often remembered as a somber chapter in the history of the United States, the Confederate States of America (CSA) represents an ideological debate that has undermined the country’s collective unconscious, and broad strokes of its identity.
Between 1861 and 1865, the states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas prioritized economic development dependent on slavery and white supremacy, to the point of fighting tooth and nail to maintain it through the Civil War.
In a speech known today as the Cornerstone Address, Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens described its ideology as being centrally based “upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.
Although the Confederate states were readmitted to the Union after the end of the Civil War, the use of their symbols remained, and even resumed during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, as a gesture of opposition by political figures such as Senator Strom Thurmond.
The private and official use of Confederate flags, especially the battle flag, has been the subject of intense philosophical, political, cultural and, of course, racial controversy in the United States.
The last one to fly was the Mississippi flag, and its departure from the flagpole seems to represent the fall of one last institutional bastion of symbolic racism. However, only time will tell whether this symbolism will also be able to emerge from the collective national unconscious.