For the first time in more than a decade, the city of Ocean Springs is flying Mississippi’s State Flag – a state flag that retains the imagery of the Confederacy. In Pascagoula, the flag is flying for the first time in more than two decades.
Newly-elected Ocean Springs Mayor Shea Dobson raised the state flag on his first day in office, arguing that Mississippi cities should fly the official state flag, no matter what it looks like. He also called for a new vote on the state flag (which we welcome).
But in a 2015 article for BamSouth, Dobson recognized the problem with the symbol of the Confederate flag and, by extension one might assume, the state flag that bears that emblem.
“Even after slavery was abolished, racist hate groups continued to use the flag to represent their cause to disenfranchise minorities and undermine every bit of progress we have made in race relations,” Dobson wrote. “Yes, all of this has gone on in other parts of the country, yet when the Confederate flag is used it is undeniable that the undertone is that the Confederate government was correct and justified to fight for the cause of slavery. This is a very real fact that cannot be ignored when discussing the flag.”
Dobson is right. We think he is wrong, however, to suggest that cities have an obligation to fly the official state flag.
In fact, we argue the opposite: For the good of their cities, Mississippi city leaders should lead the state by refusing to fly the state flag.
It’s not only because African American residents of Mississippi’s cities deserve better than to see symbols of their ancestor’s enslavement flown at their local town hall. It’s also because the flag stands as a summation of all the things that send bright young minds scrambling from this state, holding us back socially and economically.
A startling new analysis from Governing.com found that, even as the millennial population grew by 2.6 million from 2010 to 2016, Mississippi’s millennial population dropped by a startling 3.9% over the same period. Only three other states lost more than 2% of their millennial population, and none cracked 3%.
The state flag is a flashing neon sign to forward-thinking Mississippi millennials: GET. OUT. NOW.
Since state leadership is too paralyzed by fear of rural backlash to take any steps towards helping our state live up to its motto of “hospitality,” it’s up to the leaders of Mississippi’s cities to take a stand against symbols of Mississippi’s ugly, white supremacist history.
While the flag still flies over the State Capitol in Jackson, talented millennials might not want to stay in Mississippi – but they might decide they want to stay in Hattiesburg. They might decide they want to stay in Biloxi. They might decide they want to stay in Oxford. They might decide they want to stay in Starkville. They might even decide they want to stay in Ocean Springs.
And if they stay, they can change, not only the flag, but the State of Mississippi itself.