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Democracy

Mississippi's 'Confederate Heritage Month' is wrong and needs to end now

Let's talk about why applying words like "honor" and "heritage" to the Confederacy is ridiculous.

confederate soldiers in civil war reenactment
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

April Confederate Heritage Month in Mississippi

Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi has declared April as Confederate Heritage Month in the Magnolia State, marking the 30th year of this ridiculous and wrong "tradition."

If you're wondering how the state's leadership justifies something so backwards in 2023, here are the three reasons listed for recognizing Confederate Heritage Month in the official proclamation:

1) April is when the Civil War, "the costliest and deadliest" war ever fought on American soil, began. (Um, y'all know the Confederates were the ones who started this costly and deadly war, right?)

2) State law designates the last Monday in April as Confederate Memorial Day, "to honor those who served in the Confederacy." (To honor those who did what, now? Served in the Confederacy? So you're not merely memorializing those who tragically died fighting for a wrong-headed, racist cause, but you're "honoring" anyone who "served" that cause? Interesting.)


3) The state wants to "honor all who lost their lives in this war" and "reflect on our nation's past" and "gain insight from our mistakes and successes" and something about "lessons learned yesterday and today," and striving to "understand and appreciate our heritage," and no, none of this makes any sense whatsoever. (If reflection and insight lead you to still honor the Confederacy, you haven't learned a daggone thing, folks.)

First of all, if there's any question about what the Confederates in Mississippi were fighting for, they made it crystal clear in their own official declaration of reasons for secession. Right up top, the very first reason Mississippi listed:

"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world."

Alrighty then.

And if that's not clear enough, in that same document, Mississippi's list of grievances with the United States government included that “it advocates negro equality, socially and politically,” and “it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.

Kinda puts a kink in the whole "the Confederacy was about states' rights, not slavery" argument, eh? Is this the Confederate heritage being honored this month? If not, what is it, exactly?

And let's talk about this idea of "heritage." Mississippi is 145 years old. The Confederacy lasted a whopping four years. Four years is the time between two World Cup finals and less than half the lifespan of "The Office"—hardly something that constitutes a "heritage." Mississippi still talking about its "Confederate heritage" is like someone in their 50s still talking about their high school glory days, only infinitely more embarrassing.

The Confederates were losers, both literally and figuratively. They were on the objectively wrong side of a war, which they themselves initiated, and they lost. There was no glory in fighting a bloody, costly war in order to maintain the institution of slavery. There was no honor in officially documenting racist beliefs about Black people and enlisting troops to kill fellow Americans in defense of those beliefs.

The fact that the Confederates believed so deeply in their cause that tens of thousands of them were willing to die for it doesn't make it right or OK or honorable. It actually makes it worse. Creating a mythology that there was some kind of righteousness in their fight might may make their descendants feel better, but it's fundamentally dishonest. They were on the wrong side of a war that shouldn't have been fought in the first place.

Any time Mississippi puts its racist history on display like this, people say, "Well, it's Mississippi, what do you expect?" I get the impulse, but we should reject that knee-jerk response, wholeheartedly.

First of all, it's not "Mississippi" doing this. Mississippi has the highest percentage of Black residents in the country. In the 1920s, Mississippi actually had a Black majority. Yet the state has elected an unbroken string of white governors—65 of them—since its founding. Does that seem a teensy bit…statistically unlikely, all things being equal?

Of course, things have never been equal in Mississippi, which is the whole point here. It's not "Mississippi" clinging to the Confederacy like a security blanket, it's the people in power in Mississippi. Specifically, it's the white politicians who have maintained power through decades of voter suppression tactics, ranging from poll taxes and literacy tests to sneaky legislative structures to blatantly violent intimidation, that have disenfranchised the state's Black voting population.

Does anyone seriously think "Confederate Heritage Month" represents the overall will of the Blackest state in the union? Let's call it what it is—an exercise of Mississippi's steeped-in-racism power structure and a not-so-subtle way of saying, "We're still in charge here."

As for what we should expect from Mississippi's leadership? Better. We should expect better, more, sooner and faster. The state has shown, in the removal of the Confederate flag from its state flag and the willingness to change school names to stop honoring Confederates, that it is capable of letting go of heroic fantasies about the Confederacy. This is a conscious choice it is making, which shouldn't go unchallenged.

If the state wants to demonstrate that it truly has "gained insight" and "learned lessons" from the past and "understands its heritage," it should stop recognizing the Confederacy with words like "tradition" and "honor" and acknowledge the tragedy and horror that it caused. It's way past time to be honest about that history and stop pretending "Confederate heritage" was ever something to celebrate or take pride in.

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