Rebel swap? Mississippi to remove Confederate symbol from state flag

Officially, at least, the Lost Cause is dead. The last state to include a symbol of the Confederacy has voted to remove it on a bipartisan basis. Hugs and cheers followed the vote last night in Mississippi’s state legislature, and the governor has already said he plans to sign the bill:

Mississippi lawmakers voted Sunday to surrender the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag more than a century after white supremacist legislators adopted the design a generation after the South lost the Civil War.

Spectators in the Capitol cheered and applauded after the votes in the House and Senate.

Each chamber had broad bipartisan support for the historic decision. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill, and the state flag will lose its official status as soon as he does. That could happen in the next few days. …

After the vote, legislators embraced each other. Even those on the opposite side of the issue also hugged as an emotional day of debate drew to a close.

A commission is to design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will set a different design using the same guidelines, and that would be sent to voters later.

That’s an interesting experiment in itself, in two ways. For one, Mississippi might get some flak over its requirement to include the official US motto, “In God We Trust.” Atheist activists have taken aim almost since its official 1956 inception by Dwight David Eisenhower. Lawsuits started in 1970 to end its use over its religious nature, but courts have firmly held to its “ceremonial deism,” as the Supreme Court ruled in a related manner in 1984’s Lynch v Donnelly. Still, this is one more opportunity for the motto’s opponents to try to end its use.

The need to have voters approve the design by referendum is also something of a risk. The defenders of the old flag will mainly vote against anything else proposed, one would imagine, even though the old flag will get retired immediately anyway and won’t return now as a matter of law. (Mississippi will be without a state flag in the meantime.) Will one design satisfy enough of the rest of the voters to pass in a popular vote? This looks like a recipe for endless cycles of design, rejection, and redesign.

Even with all of those potential issues ahead, the state made the right call. It’s one thing for individuals to display Confederate emblems, but quite another for a state to make it part of their official iconography. It’s a symbol of an armed insurrection against the United States for the purpose of perpetuating slavery; its only relation to “states rights” was the perceived right of Southern states to maintain slavery and extend it into new territories. (See “Bleeding Kansas,” for one example.) The Lost Cause mythology is just that — a myth wrapped around an ugly truth. In the decades since Mississippi and other states revived Confederate symbols into official statuses, those might have been inculturated differently and honestly by Southerners, but they still remain symbols of treasonous uprising for the purpose of maintaining slavery. It’s not only long since time that they were retired from official use — they never should have been revived in the first place.

In that sense, taking on the US motto “In God We Trust” is clever indeed. Not only does it symbolically close that old breach, it suggests another kind of defiance altogether against political correctness. Think of it as rechanneled rebellion, and its brilliance becomes obvious.

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