Proclamations, Commemorations and a Rogue [State] of Mind

Governor Phil Bryant’s signed proclamation which declares

April “Confederate Heritage Month” and April 25, 2016

“Confederate Memorial Day” has stirred much controversy in

the Magnolia State. Tantamount to drawing a line of demarcation in

the sand between pro-Confederate heritage supporters and those

who msflagbelieve embracing this heritage is toxic to promoting unity, the

questions of how did we get here and where do we go from here

arise?

The movement to preserve the tarnished regional identity of the

American South is rooted in the production of Post-Civil War

celebrations, literature and academic organizations associated

with branding a chivalrous and nobler history around the

Confederate defeat known in academic circles as the “Lost

Cause.” As noted scholar Dr. Charles Reagan Wilson revealed, a

“civic religion” developed around the Confederate defeat. The

legacy of this propaganda campaign had far reaching social,

economic and political implications which still affect the

mindset of southerners and shapes the South’s regional identity,

particularly in Mississippi.

From a historical perspective, and in all honesty, one would be

deranged to say pro-Confederate factions throughout the South,

or for that matter in Mississippi, “lost.” As it is clearly

documented throughout the historical record, the South was

redeemed- ushering in a new age in which sharecropping

replaced slavery, black codes replaced slave codes and black

political participation by 1880 was near to non-existent in

Mississippi. Coupled with the profound impacts of racial

segregation, extreme violence against blacks and various forms

of economic discrimination, the South, and particularly

Mississippi, was returned to a social state resembling its former

antebellum glory. Consequently, interconnected with the

proclamation for celebrating Confederate heritage is reaffirming

the “redemption of the South” and the preeminence of white

supremacy.

On the one hand, critics of this idea may counter by arguing for

all Mississippians to take notice of the progress that has been

made over the past half century in civil rights, educational and

economic gains. On the other hand, a thorough assessment of the

socio-economic status of black Mississippians reveals African

Americans are incarcerated at a disproportionate rate and rank

the lowest in educational attainment in the state. Equally, I

would be remiss not to mention the myriad of health and

economic disparities which abound. Unequivocally, there is a

tangible impact on all Mississippians, both black and white,

when we hold dear to the divisive aspects of our problematic

past.

As a life long historian and educator, I am a proponent of

reading about, reflecting on and commemorating the past.

However, the ambiguity that surrounds “remembering” in

Mississippi involves one deciphering the murky confluence of

racial interests and ideas regarding how native Mississippians

formulate their shared connections to the past. Invariably, until

we all gain some true sensibilities about our socially

disconcerting past and focus on the unifying aspects separately

from the divisive features, we will always be lost in its racial

labyrinth.

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In the bigger scheme of things, the phrase “We the People”

recorded in the preamble of the United States Constitution has to

have meaning as it relates to the common constructive history

and experiences of all Mississippians which is undoubtedly,

contrary to the beliefs of some individuals, an integral part of the

United States of America. Hence, the larger challenge and

looming question is when are Mississippians going to stop living

in the past and whole heartedly re-join the United States of

America?

Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in the Blood: the Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865- 1920, 2nd Edition, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009.

Dr. Marco Robinson

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016

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