This week, the University of Southern Mississippi replaced the state flags with the United States flag. In a statement from Rodney Bennett, the President of USM he said,
"I have chosen to raise American flags on all University of Southern Mississippi flagpoles to remind the University community of what unites us. We have all chosen to work, study and live in a country in which debates like those around the state flag of Mississippi can take place and ideas can be civilly expressed and advanced."
The Mississippi flag was removed only moments before a protest began. Dr. Susan
Hrostowski, an associate professor of social work, organized a peaceful protest to remove the flag. Several faculty members and students, including myself, met at the flagpole at noon. Unsure of why the flag was not flying we moved forward with our rally.
People began to gather. Some were for taking down the flag while others were not. What began, as a peaceful protest, became a haggling match between pro-flag people vs. take it down proponents. Some conveyed their argument calmly and
rationally while others shouted. Emotions escalated.
A handful of people defended the flag, calling it "history" and "heritage." Young black students said, "History in the south is nothing that I can celebrate." One man recalled a time when he took a wrong turn and saw a house flying a big confederate flag. "When I saw that flag, I was immediately afraid because of what it represents," he said.
As this debate heated up, several white people said, "This doesn't symbolize hate, it symbolizes history." It is ironic that when white people are pressed to address racism they often say, "That happened in the past; that's history. You can't blame me for that."
Today, as a white person, I must speak the truth. History is not benign, nor are flags. Today, as in the past, the Confederate battle flag symbolizes racism, hate, and white supremacy. When I see the confederate flag, I see images of men in white hoods participating in a lynching. I see white men with swastika tattoos. I see a young man shooting innocent people in church on a quiet Sunday morning.
Hate has continually overshadowed any nostalgic history of the flag. What once
symbolized the era of white power institutionalized by slavery, Dred Scott, and Jim
Crow segregation continues to convey hate and racism.
The best we can hope for is that any flag of Mississippi will represent a future of our
state that respects all people. Right now, the flag that comes closest to that goal is the United States flag.
I was proud to be standing on the right side of history today on the campus of
Southern Mississippi. I am a proud student of USM and a proud citizen of the
hospitality state and today we came one step closer to achieving hospitality for all. I
want to close with the words from President Bennett,
" While I love the state of Mississippi, there is passionate disagreement about the current state flag on our campuses and in our communities. I am looking forward to a time when this debate is resolved and USM raises a state flag that unites us."