What do you think of when you see the Confederate flag? What does it mean to you? To some, it’s a symbol of the South, a cultural icon that evokes pride for a large part of the country. To others the Confederate flag is a relic, a reminder of the racism and hatred that caused a civil war to erupt, forever changing the landscape of the United States.
The Confederate imagery currently forms part of the State flag of Mississippi and hangs high over buildings all over the State. It’s an issue that has long divided the people of Mississippi, with some desperate to remove what they see as an unnecessary reminder of the violence that occurred in the State, and others keen to keep it, seeing a relic of the history and culture of the South. The flag has even become an issue for the representatives of both parties in the Presidential Election. The Democrats think the flag should be taken down. A spokesperson for the Sanders Campaign, Karthik Ganapathy, commented:
‘For many Americans, especially those still harmed by the enduring legacy of slavery, Confederate symbols represent hatred, bigotry and division. That’s why Sen. Sanders believes they have no place being celebrated in the 21st century, whether on a state flag, or by proclamation from a Republican politician.’
Even the Republicans are unsure about the controversial topic, with the usually outspoken Donald Trump remaining suspiciously quiet on the subject. We shouldn’t expect any major revelations from the Republican candidates in the near future either, as whatever side of the fence they sit on will surely lose them votes.
The discussion has erupted again recently with an announcement by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves. Reeves is currently hearing a case put forward by Mississippi lawyer Carlos Moore, part of which is the motion to declare the Confederate flag an”unconstitutional relic of slavery”
Moore is not alone in his lawsuit, with Dr. Jamal Bryant aiding him. The pair recently featured on the Tom Joyner Morning Show where they discussed the announcement by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant that April will now be Confederate Heritage Month. Dr. Bryant and Mr. Moore spoke at length on the subject of the Confederate flag and also of the announcement of Confederate Heritage Month taking place during February, which is also Black History Month, with Moore saying:
‘It’s an insult to every African-American in Mississippi. He did it during Black History Month and we’re going to make him pay.’
The issue obviously has tensions running high, and there have even been threats to the life of Mr. Moore from white supremacist groups, according to Dr. Bryant:
‘If South Carolina can do it, then Mississippi should do it. Within 24 hours white supremacists on Twitter have actively called for a hit on his (Moore) life for trying to take down the flag.’
The flag was thrust back into the media spotlight recently because of the horrific murders of nine African-American worshipers in South Carolina, where Dylan Roof, a 21-year-old resident opened fire in a church in Charleston. Images of the murderer were released, several of which showed him posing alongside the Confederate flag.
Judge Reeves has a tough decision to make. He made his opinion of the flag known on Tuesday, describing it as:
‘Anti-American because it represents those who fought to leave the United States’
Reeves hasn’t yet decided whether or not he will hear a case that wants to ban the antiquated symbol, but under ever increasing pressure from campaigners like Bryant and Moore, it will be difficult to imagine this issue will go away. Changing the law regarding the flag may not be up to Judge Reeves. Special Assistant Attorney General Douglas Miracle, acting on behalf of Governor Bryant argues that matters concerning the flag should be decided by political representatives, not the court and that Moore has failed to show he has suffered harm because of the emblem:
‘The admonition that courts not adjudicate matters of generalized grievances more appropriately addressed in the representative branches…Plaintiff’s alleged injury – fear for his safety – is precisely the type of speculation and conjecture the Supreme Court has rejected’
Moore’s counter argument is that he has suffered injury because of the flag. It is a reminder of a traumatic period for African-American people like himself, and that it is indicative of a time when African-Americans were second-class citizens. Moore has spoken of the difficulties he has in the workplace at courthouses where the flag is featured, saying that:
‘…anxiety has created more stress in my life and has probably contributed to or caused the exacerbation of medical ailments, including but not limited to hypertension, insomnia and abnormal EKGs’
Reeves hasn’t announced when he will decide on the case, but it’s clear that whatever happens there will have long-lasting repercussions for the State of Mississippi and the whole United States. All Americans will have to weigh up whether holding on to cultural emblems of the past is worth the potential suffering that those symbols cause to people today. Are the feelings of any individual or group of individuals, or the potential mental harm inflicted on those people worth risking for the sake of holding on to a relic of a time better off forgotten?
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