Editorial: Mississippi, finish what you started. End Confederate Heritage Month

Members of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol prepare to raise the new state flag at the Capitol on Jan. 11
Members of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol prepare to raise the new state flag at the Capitol in Jackson on Jan. 11.
(Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ quiet declaration of April as Confederate Heritage Month in his state is a stinging reminder of how hard it is for all Americans to put away our collective racist legacy.

Reeves signed the proclamation earlier this month without fanfare, and its existence was virtually unknown until the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 265 Rankin Rough and Ready’s posted it on the group’s Facebook page. The governor’s press secretary later said that Reeves signed the proclamation “because he believes we can all learn from our history.”

Certainly we must learn from history, and April is an apt choice. We should recall, for example, that April 1861 marked the beginning of the Confederacy’s war on the United States. April is when that rebellion effectively ended at Appomattox Court House, four years and more than 600,000 lives later. April is when Abraham Lincoln — who saved the Union, signed the Emancipation Proclamation and led the campaign to adopt the 13th Amendment to outlaw slavery — was murdered. And it is when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who called the nation to account for an additional century of anti-Black racism and apartheid, was murdered. So April signifies more about the nation’s heritage than Mississippi might like to admit.


The proclamation uses unobjectionable words like “insight,” but is simply a dressed-up call to celebrate the wrong part of the state’s legacy, in much the same way the Confederate battle symbol trumpeted racial segregation from the time it was placed on the official Mississippi flag in 1894, through the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, and into the renewed nationwide racial debate that intensified with the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota nearly a year ago.

The state took a step forward last June when it retired that flag, and again in January when it adopted a new flag featuring a magnolia instead of the Confederate symbol. That move finally embraced the one million descendants of slaves as authentic Mississippians. The exalting of Confederate heritage undermines that welcome step.

It’s no easy thing to acknowledge the shameful aspects of the history one was taught to take pride in, and no Americans in any other state need feel smug. California, for example, was built in part on slavery, apartheid and genocide, although even today we don’t use those words. Mississippians would be within their rights to call us out for those still widely unacknowledged crimes, as is the rest of the nation to scold Mississippi. We should do our scolding humbly. We also should do it resolutely, being sure to identify, examine and expurgate the injustices we still commit and the symbols that exalt our offenses — but never to erase the unadulterated truth about who we once were and who we aspire to become instead.