State leaders wrong on flag controversy

Published 12:01 am Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mississippi’s general election is more than a month and a half away, but my mind is already made up on at least two men who will definitely not receive my vote — Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.

On the surface, neither of the men is particularly distasteful.

Both seem to have reasonably represented the state, meaning neither name conjures up a scandal of epic proportions like the names of so many politicians do.

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My challenge has to do with a matter that I’ve long felt was important for Mississippi to address quickly — the lingering image adorning one corner of Mississippi’s official state flag. Racist groups long ago adopted the Confederate battle flag symbol, sadly tainting a part of our history.

My roots in Mississippi are deep.

Born here, reared here and educated here, Mississippi is a state I love greatly, so much so that I cannot stand when outsiders poke fun at us — even when their humor is a dead on point.

Watching the state’s image trashed because of a small segment of people who think our history should take precedent over the present and the future makes me sad.

Mississippi — now the only state in the Union still flying either a Confederate flag or a flag containing the symbol — needs to change.

Many state leaders have thrown their support behind changing the state’s most public symbol to one less offensive.

Bryant and Reeves have chosen to take the chicken way out. Both men have dodged the public debate by simply not choosing a side. Instead each contends the voters, not the Mississippi Legislature, should decide on the matter, as some have proposed.

Both men are well aware that when the matter went to a statewide vote in 2001, voters chose, approximately 2-to-1 to stay with the current flag design.

Of course, if we took all of the important state matters to a popular vote, chances are Mississippians would pay far less taxes than they do now and likely would do as they please.

Not unlike our good friends in Texas, Mississippians are often fiercely independent. Generally, we despise having someone from the outside telling us what to do.

That’s what makes the debate over the Confederate symbol on the state flag so interesting.

A pile of well-known Mississippians, former Mississippians and state leaders have lined up in support of changing what to most of the rest of the country is clearly tinged with racial overtones.

Realizing the two top statewide leaders — Bryant and Reeves — seem to either have no backbone or simply lack the political courage to speak their thoughts publicly is disappointing. Yes, politicians are elected to represent the will of the people, but that isn’t an excuse to simply not lead.

Great leaders are capable and confident enough to speak their minds, even when what they say may not be politically popular.

Bryant and Reeves’ unwillingness to take a stand illustrates to me they care more about not offending someone than truly what’s best for Mississippi.

Hopefully, when the Mississippi Legislature convenes in January, enough true leaders will step up and make the change in the state’s flag. As long as the kidnapped Confederate symbol still exists in an official capacity, the longer it will detract from bigger issues Mississippi faces — improving education, reducing poverty, putting more people to work, becoming healthier, etc.

Mississippi will eventually change the flag; I’m convinced of that.

The solution may just be a matter of time — and a few elections away.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or