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‘You White People Don’t Get It’: Mississippi’s Long, Ugly Road To Changing Its State Flag


‘Even If It Does Sacrifice Some of My White Children’

In 2001, several other southern states, including Alabama and Georgia, were also discussing the possibility of shedding Confederate imagery from their flags, too. Some Mississippi pundits theorized that maybe people felt less urgency to change Mississippi’s flag in 2001 because the state adopted it in 1894 out of a genuine desire to honor Confederate veterans, many of whom were still alive. 

The historical record, though, suggests otherwise.

Mississippi radically remade its Constitution in 1890 with the goal of disenfranchising black voters, implementing a system of Jim Crow laws that included literacy tests and poll taxes, seeking to kill off reforms the North had insisted on in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.

In a convention hall where state officials plotted out the new constitution that September, one state lawmaker, J.H. McGehee from Franklin County, ” gave a rousing speech to his fellow lawmakers’ delight. 

“I will agree that this is a government by the people and for the people, but what people? When this declaration was made by our forefathers, it was for the Anglo-Saxon people. That is what we are here for today—to secure the supremacy of the white race,” he said.

To guarantee black disenfranchisement, McGehee said, he was willing to risk disenfranchising some white people, too, noting proposals that would have required people to own property or have a certain level of education before they could vote.

“I will vote for an educational or property qualification if necessary, even if it does sacrifice some of my white children, or my white neighbors or their children,” the lawmaker said. “Too many are trying to whip the devil ’round the stump.”

McGehee then sought to shame his colleagues for not showing more willingness to sacrifice some white people’s rights in the name of white supremacy. He highlighted the sacrifices of a veteran in the room.

“The gentleman from Webster, Mr. (John E.) Gore, was willing to risk his life for four long years—was willing to fight for his country, for property and all that, and yet he and men who had no property were not willing to sacrifice a single vote to save this country from negro domination,” McGehee said. 

“Thousands of the gallant sons of the South had no property in slaves or otherwise, and yet they offered their lives to protect their neighbor’s property, and the same noble spirit is now ready for any concession or sacrifice that will secure and perpetuate white supremacy in Mississippi.”

The lawmaker’s speech drew “great and long continued applause” from his colleagues, The Clarion-Ledger wrote then.

Ten years later, the future governor James Kimble Vardaman would bluntly offer his own assessment of the 1890 Constitution’s purpose: “There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter. Mississippi’s constitutional convention was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n*gger from politics; not the ignorant—but the n*gger,” said Vardaman, who was known as “The Great White Chief” for his steadfast defense of white supremacy.


Read entire article at Mississippi Free Press