More changes caused by the recent demonstrations

One of the things that struck me about the recent moves to remove monuments honoring leading figures of the confederacy is how many such symbols there are all over the country, especially, of course, in those states that formed part of the confederacy. It is encouraging that even deep Republican states are reconsidering their identification with such symbols. A good example is Mississippi where I was surprised to learn that the confederate flag forms part of the current state flag. But this solidly Republican state has just voted to start the process to remove it.

The Mississippi state legislature — both the House and Senate — passed a resolution on Saturday that will begin the process to change the state’s flag.

The newly passed resolution suspends the rules so that lawmakers can consider a bill that would change or remove the flag. First, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed the measure in a vote of 85-34 amid loud cheers in the chamber, followed by the Senate in a vote of 36-14.

The passage of the measure in both chambers now leads the way for a bill to be proposed and passed to allow for the change of the state flag. The bill is expected to be taken up on Sunday afternoon, when both the House and Senate go back into session.

Mississippi is the last state in the country whose flag features the Confederate emblem. The state flag features red, white and blue stripes with the Confederate battle emblem in the corner. It was first adopted in 1894.

Earlier on Saturday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said in a tweet that he would sign a bill to remove Confederate imagery from the state flag if the legislature sends him a bill this weekend.

“The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag. The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it. If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it,” Reeves said.

And the governor has indeed signed it.

Note that the flag was adopted nearly thirty years after the Civil War had ended with the defeat of the confederacy but during the height of the backlash against Reconstruction, the period when white Southerners were reclaiming the power over the blacks that they had lost with the end of slavery. So clearly the old flag was meant to signal that they planned to perpetuate the goals of the confederacy even after having lost the war.

Some supporters of the confederacy are now taking down the statues pre-emptively and hiding them to prevent their removal by protestors.

In Fort Myers, Florida, a bronze bust of Confederate General Robert E. Lee disappeared without warning on June 1—but not because protesters had toppled the monument. Instead, with the approval of local officials, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), an all-male Confederate enthusiasts group, had successfully lobbied to protect it.

On June 1, Jeff Hornsby, a moderator for the private Facebook group Keep Lee in Lee that’s affiliated with the SCV, posted a photo of himself draped over the bust. The caption read, “Our honorable General has been under a social media attack this week, so rather than letting someone make that mistake in real life, he is in safe keeping for now with the SCV. We will protect him to the end of the earth. Rebel yell.” The exact location of the statue has not been publicly disclosed.

I am not sure what purpose this action serves since protestors just wanted the statues removed. The statue’s supporters seem to have done the work of the protestors.

But it is not just the honoring of confederate figures that is being repudiated. We have also seen monuments to presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Teddy Roosevelt come down. And just a few days ago, Princeton University voted to remove the name of another former president Woodrow Wilson from its School of Public and International Affairs because of his racism.

In a statement, Princeton’s trustees said they had considered “whether it is acceptable for this University’s school of public affairs to bear the name of a racist who segregated the nation’s civil service after it had been integrated for decades”.

While he is remembered as a progressive, internationalist statesman, Wilson’s reputation is clouded by his racist policies in other areas of government when he was president from 1913 to 1921.

Wilson segregated federal workers in Washington DC, blocked a proposal to include racial equality as a founding principle in the League of Nations, and hosted White House screenings of the racist 1915 film Birth of a Nation, which celebrated the founding of the Ku Klux Klan. He was seen as accepting of brutal racial segregation in the south as a way of keeping the peace.

In the New York Times in 2015, the lawyer Gordon Davis, whose grandfather was demoted in his civil service career as part of a systematic purge of the federal government, wrote that Wilson “was not just a racist”.

“He believed in white supremacy as government policy, so much so that he reversed decades of racial progress. But we would be wrong to see this as a mere policy change; in doing so, he ruined the lives of countless talented African Americans and their families,” Davis wrote.

Wilson also saw education in very elitist ways. He wanted to preserve a real education for just a small elite while all the others would be merely trained to be cogs in the capitalist machine, saying in a speech, “We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.”

Monuments to Christopher Columbus have also been targeted but those efforts are being resisted by the Italian-American community, including New York governor Andrew Cuomo. It is interesting to see what happens in Columbus, OH, where the mayor of that city has removed a statue that had stood in front of the City Hall, and placed it in storage. Goodbye, Columbus!

So one by one the country is shedding itself of memorials honoring its ugly past.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    It is interesting to see what happens in Columbus, OH

    Call me back when they change the name of the city…

  2. Matt G says

    I would LOVE to see the statue of Columbus come down from Columbus Circle in Manhattan, and have the area renamed.

    Some of the most openly racist people I have ever met are of Italian descent. Ironic that they were a despised group in the US not that long ago. But what better way to fit in to a new society than to adopt the bigotry of the dominant group?

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    So one by one the country is shedding itself of memorials honoring its ugly past.

    Now if we could only do something about our ugly future…

    Note that the flag change stipulated by the Mississippi state government mandates the new banner will assert, “In God We Trust”.

    Dunno why they left out the exclamation point.

    Hypothetically, a new design will be offered to the voters in November; if not approved, the state will go back to its drawing boards, but the theocratic slogan will remain mandatory.

    If I still lived there, I would propose a minor re-arrangement of letters to more accurately reflect the culture-war intentions behind the wording:

    In God We Strut

  4. Mano Singham says

    Matt G.,

    One of the few cases of discrimination I experienced personally in the US was when I was a graduate student. I was looking for an apartment and one area near the university was an ethnic Italian one. I saw an ad in the paper that advertised an apartment and went to see it but the woman who opened the door said that the apartment had been taken. But I saw the same apartment being advertised for a couple of weeks after that.

    On the other hand, the apartment that I did get was also owned by an ethnic Italian family and they were very nice and I stayed there for three years.

  5. efogoto says

    I was surprised to find out that when Georgia got rid of its flag with the Confederate battle flag design, what they replaced it with is just the first Confederate national flag (the “Stars and Bars”) with the state’s coat of arms centered in the stars of the canton.

  6. Tadas says

    I’m not sure how the Florida state flag is interpreted to not contain the confederate symbol.

  7. says

    @2, Matt G
    Paint with a broad brush much, Matt? Speaking as a person with grandparents who came over from Italy and yet who also recognizes that Columbus was an ass, even by the standards of his day, and wouldn’t mind one bit if his statues were taken down, I present myself as a contrary data point.

    There was a time in the US not too long ago, and perhaps hard to imagine today, that people from the southern Mediterranean regions of Europe were not considered white. In some circles, not a lot has changed. Ever been called a d*go or a w*p, or had someone assume that you and your family were somehow connected to “the mob” because of your last name?

  8. says

    It should be noted that the leading contender for the new flag will contain the words “In God We Trust”.

    Nice to see that the Mississippi Republicans just can’t not be divisive while playing to their conservative evangelical base.

  9. jrkrideau says

    @ 6 Tadas
    Interesting, I just had a look at tho Florida flag and it would never have occurred to me but I am Canadian and would have just it was based on one of tho crosses from the Union Jack.

    I can see what you mean though.

  10. Matt G says

    jimf@7- I’m from upstate NY, and currently live in NYC. I am well aware that there are plenty of wonderful people of Italian descent out there. This includes a friend in a very racist town whose small manufacturing business has an incredibly diverse workforce. Have you not met lots of racist Italian-Americans upstate? I sure have. Did I generalize? Yes, I did. But that’s been my experience. I have nothing against Italian-Americans…unless they’re racists.

  11. says

    @10 Matt G,

    That was stunningly weak. Let me guess, some of your best friends are black, too. And to the point, no, considering the large number of Italian-Americans that I know, they are no more or less than racist as a group than the large number of Polish-Americans I know, or any of the other ethnic groups that I know. And BTW, the plural of anecdote is not data, so please bugger off.

  12. Matt G says

    jimf@12- Do a Google search for “racism Italian Americans.” Right on the first page you will find a number of articles which address the history of relations between Italian-Americans and American blacks. Interestingly, there were times and places in which these groups got along well. It turns out there is a history of bias back in Italy -- lighter Italians looked down upon darker ones. In your first response to me, you mention how you were one of the non-racists, but what was that about anecdotes and data? If you want to understand the present, study the past. My experiences are consistent with this history.

  13. says

    @14 Matt G
    Just keep digging deeper, Matt, but I doubt you’ll get out of that hole. If, as you say, your problem isn’t with Italian-Americans per se, just racist ones, then why even bother including “Italian-American” in the description? I could say that I don’t have a problem with people named Matt, just racist people named Matt. I could also say that in my personal experience, I’ve met a few people named Matt who were racists. What’s the point? And you also missed my point about data/anecdotes. I’m done with you. Seriously, just bugger off.

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