What price would you place upon your soul? For the people of Mississippi, this question recently became more than a mere philosophical or theological inquiry. True enough, all of us face this question in small, unnoticed ways as we move through life. Thankfully, most of us can make our choice quietly, in private, and away from public scrutiny. But occasionally, people are forced to make their choice with the entire world watching. The recent vote in Mississippi on whether to keep the state flag (which contains the Confederate Battle Flag) was just such an occasion. The vote, 65 percent in favor to 35 percent opposed, was an overwhelming victory of tradition over political correctness.
Despite relentless accusations of racism from the politically correct media and claims by leaders of the business community that the current flag hinders economic development, the people of Mississippi rallied to the defense of their flag and their society. What motivated such a vote? Why did the people of Mississippi, the citizens of the “poorest” state in the Union, reject their business leaders’ promise of economic progress? And why make such a controversial choice for a symbol, a mere flag?
Non-Southerners habitually underestimate the importance that Southerners attach to their heritage. No doubt the p.c. crowd thought it would be a simple matter to use the media monopoly to propagate the notion that the current flag is a symbol of racism, which hinders economic investments in Mississippi. With near-absolute control of the media, the left believed a quick and sure victory was at hand. The scalawag politicians begged them to attack, the media cranked out their propaganda, the self-appointed black leadership declared war on the flag, and the state’s “conservative” politicians bravely declared their neutrality. The flag was left to defend itself Still, the road to victory was not as smooth as expected: The people began to take their stand. Public hearings organized to drum up support for changing the state flag became large and strident pro-flag events. The liberal former governor heading up the effort to abandon the state flag claimed that these people were an insignificant neo-Confederate minority that did not represent the desire of the people. But polls conducted by the state’s newspapers before the vote demonstrated that over one third of the state’s black population saw no reason to change the flag. Things are never as simple as black and white—especially down South!
At last, the ballots were cast, and supporters of the ancient symbols and traditions of the South won. Outside of the South, there seems to be little appreciation of why the people of Mississippi decided to keep their flag. Most of the media pundits attributed the vote to some form of explicit or latent racism—the liberal party line that Southerners have learned to expect. But is this reality?
The love that Southerners have for their heritage and region is more than symbolism; it is more than a handful of neo-Confederates refusing to accept the arbitrary rule of the imperial federalists. It encompasses more than the lore of the War for Southern Independence. It includes a unique regional culture that still survives in a hostile world, a culture where people still maintain and cultivate kinship beyond the “nuclear family.” Family includes not only those present but those past and those yet to come. Duty to the past, present, and future is not compartmentalized—it is indivisible. Churches are still the center of most non-urban Southern communities. Southerners are, in fact, a “folk”—a people who recognize themselves as different from (as opposed to better than) other people, people whose conservative political values are established upon a history of adherence to the original Constitution, state’s rights, limited federalism, and individual liberty.
The enemies of Mississippi’s flag spent almost three-quarters of a million dollars in their effort to destroy it. They promised Mississippians economic development if they would abandon their heritage. Yet, given the opportunity to select between the material or the spiritual, the people of Mississippi voted in overwhelming numbers to reject their scalawag political leadership and to ignore the attempts of the business community to bribe them with promises of economic gain.
The people of Mississippi looked within themselves and saw that there was no Wal-Mart sale tag on their soul. By the standards of this world, Mississippians made an unprofitable choice; by the standards of the traditional South, however, they made the only choice that honor would allow. Thank God for the people of Mississippi!
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