Historians explain meaning of retired Mississippi flag, past & present

As Governor Tate Reeves signs the bill to adopt a new state flag, historians are reflecting on its meaning past and present.

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LOWNDES COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI)- As Governor Tate Reeves signs the bill to adopt a new state flag, historians are reflecting on its meaning past and present.

You’ve probably heard the saying, history repeats itself…

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But Stephanie Rolph, an Associate Professor of History at Millsaps College, says the motion to re-design the Mississippi state flag is a new beginning.

“The Confederate battle flag inclusion in the Mississippi state flag was a decision that was made in 1894 as a gesture to reassure aging Confederate veterans that their state government had not forgotten them. At the same time, we have to widen our understanding of why they fought in the first place and that was to preserve slavery,” said Rolph.

In efforts to symbolize the people of the south, Rolph says the emblem in the upper left-hand corner has often divided the state rather than uniting it.

“That Confederate battle flag is not just about that particular moment or even just about the civil war. It’s about a symbol for white dominance, terror, and violence,” said Rolph.

And that controversial perspective has developed over time…

“Over the years, the flag issue built up. Some people viewed it as their heritage, some people viewed it as a flag of oppression,” said historian Rufus Ward.

Ward says the vote to remove the state flag will make momentous strides to unite the people of Mississippi and create more opportunities here for everyone.

“It’s significant that you really had Republicans and Democrats supporting a new flag in the legislature and the huge margin to vote to change the flag. I think that says a lot about the spirit in Mississippi,” said Ward.

Rolph and Ward agree it’s a task long over-due.

“The flag coming down is an incredible first step but it’s only one and a long series of reckoning with this state’s history. I hope that we are not closing the door on this conversation but we are opening ourselves up,” said Rolph.

The state flag will be placed in the Museum of Mississippi History in Jackson.

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