My Confederate Past

Breaking News
tags: segregation, Southern history, Confederacy

On Friday, the Mississippi legislature is scheduled to vote on changing the Mississippi state flag. As I write this, I have no idea what the outcome will be. On the off chance you’re unfamiliar with the Mississippi flag, it resembles the American flag—except the upper-left quadrant is the Confederate battle flag. It was adopted in 1894 at the height of the white backlash to Reconstruction.

It’s difficult to explain to a non-Southerner the role the Confederate flag has played in our lives. I suspect that’s more so for a Mississippian than for someone from any other state as Mississippi is the most Southern of the states. Put it this way: If you have connections to the University of Mississippi—the most Southern school in the most Southern state—then your connection to the Confederate flag is what the shamrock is to Notre Dame.

I was born in the 1950s to parents who met at Ole Miss. The role Ole Miss football played in my life was basically what the Catholic Church is to the Jesuits. It was both a belief system and the organizing principle of life. Saturdays in the fall were the Holy Days when the Faithful would gather and reinforce our devotion through the shared communion of ritual.

These were not football games but celebrations of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. Only this time our 11 soldiers on the field of battle more often than not emerged victorious. At halftime the band marched in Confederate battle gray uniforms while Colonel Reb led the cheerleaders in unfolding what was billed as the world’s largest Confederate flag. (Even as a 10-year-old I remember wondering, “How big was the second-largest flag?”) Cheerleaders threw bundles of Confederate flags into the stands. We stood and swayed together singing Dixie, always ending in the stadium-shaking cry, “The South Shall Rise Again.”

It was at halftime in the 1962 Ole Miss-Kentucky game at Jackson’s Memorial Stadium—walking distance from my home—that Governor Ross Barnett gave his famous speech calling for states’ rights. We beat Kentucky that afternoon and the next day in Oxford there began the last pitched battle of the Civil War. It took 30,000 troops to force the University of Mississippi to accept a single black student

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