Pic from home: Hope, frustration and the Mississippi flag

Updated

We were talking last night after the show about the story from North Carolina, the one involving the Republican leader who seemed not to understand how racist he sounded, even as the Daily Show asked him, mid-interview, “You know that we can hear you, right?” He knew, and he carried on.

Shocking as it may be to hear a political leader rambling about “lazy blacks,” for people from the American South, as I am, it’s not that big a surprise. Yes, it rends the conscience and makes you mad as hell. But it is not a surprise.

Just yesterday, the alt-weekly in my hometown covered the joint groundbreaking of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil RIghts Museum. Part of Mississippi’s history is stitched into its state flag, in the form of the flag of the old Confederacy. And so there that it was, on the stage yesterday with the dignitaries, including Civil Rights hero Myrlie Evers-Williams. 

Evers-WIilliams, the widow of assassinated NAACP leader Medgar Evers, has only recently returned to the state to live. Yesterday, she got up from behind that flag and said this to the crowd, as reported by the Jackson Free Press:

“I thank Medgar Evers every day for believing, not only in his country, but in the state of Mississippi,” said Evers-Williams, who returned to live in Mississippi. “He used to say, repeatedly, that this will be the best place to live in the United States, once we put our problems, our hatred and our racism behind us.

“These two museums are going to show the world—not just Mississippi, or the other states—but the world who we are, where we have been, where we are today and where we are going tomorrow,” Evers-Williams said.

When I asked about the photo, the paper’s editor, my friend Donna Ladd, she described her own reaction to it this way:

It’s hope rolled up with frustration for me, and a lot of people, I think.

The hope for me is that they’re all up there together, speaking about a museum where we’re going to tell more truth. But the frustration is why can’t we just get to bringing that flag down?

Earlier this year, state workers by accident briefly raised the Confederate flag over the Mississippi Supreme Court – they’d been sold the wrong one in a mislabeled box. The last time Mississippi made a run at taking the Confederate symbol out was in 2001, when 64 percent of voters said the flag should remain as it is. Donna Ladd says that people are scared to try again, because losing would send such a demoralizing message about the state. It doesn’t mean they won’t try at some point, only that the cost of trying and losing is great. She does see change, even in that picture, that might not be obvious, starting with the presence of a Republican governor at a celebration of Civil Rights. “I don’t think the world realizes how huge it is for those Republicans to be up there,” she says. And that’s something.

Thanks to Jackson Free Press photographer Trip Burns for sharing that photo, and for taking it. 

Bonus read: On the “worthy scrap” of staying in a place like Mississippi and working for change.

Blue Dots, Medgar Evers, Mississippi, Myrlie Evers-Williams and Phil Bryant

Pic from home: Hope, frustration and the Mississippi flag

Updated