Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has made it official. April 2016 is “Confederate Heritage Month.”
Timothy Abram, a history teacher at West Tallahatchie High School in Webb, Miss., has respectfully declined to join the celebration.
And Derrick Johnson, the president of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, wonders why Mississippians who fought on the side of the Union should not also be honored.
Just when it seemed the Stars and Bars of the Confederate flag, and statues of Confederate Civil War heroes like Robert E. Lee, were being consigned to the dustbins of Civil War history, the debate has flared again.
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia have celebrated Confederate History or Heritage months since the mid-1990s. It is observed in April because that is the month the Civil War started in 1861 and ended four years later in 1865.
Gov. Bryant said in February it was important Mississippi celebrate the month again in 2016, because, in words of the Confederate Heritage Month proclamation: “Whereas, it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned from yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow if we carefully and earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities which lie before us.”
Confederate Memorial Day will be observed as a state holiday on April 25.
“Gov. Bryant believes Mississippi’s history deserves study and reflection, no matter how unpleasant or complicated parts of it may be,” Bryant’s chief of communications, Clay Chandler, told the Clarion-Ledger. “Like the proclamation says, gaining insight from our mistakes and successes will help us move forward.”
Abram, an African-American, wrote in an op-ed published by NBCnews.com that he could find no reason to celebrate Confederate Heritage Month.
However, he agreed with Bryant’s assertion that it was important to learn from mistakes of the past, and urged Mississippi to get started on that immediately.
“If we are to learn about Confederate Heritage, it is of paramount importance that we first understand why we (Mississippians) were a part of the Confederacy in the first place,” Abram wrote. “According to A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union, ‘Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.’”
State Rep. Ed Blackmon (D), a member of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, told Fox News he didn’t have a problem with Confederate Heritage Month.
But, like Abram, he believes education should be the top priority.
Blackmon remembered the Confederate flag being used by the KKK as a symbol of racial oppression. “That’s a part of history you can’t deny,” he said.
Another chapter of Mississippi’s Civil War history that Johnson of the Mississippi NAACP argued can’t be denied is the fact that “tens of thousands of white and black soldiers from Mississippi fought for the United States in the war — shouldn’t their lives be recognized too?”
“These Mississippians were patriots who fought for the preservation of this great nation, and we must preserve their history and legacy so that future generations can understand the sacrifice of our ancestors,” Johnson wrote in an op-ed for the Clarion-Ledger.
“To do otherwise would encourage a revisionist history that dishonors the memory of our families, friends, and neighbors who fought, bled and died for freedom and for the nation,” he wrote.
However, what one side considers “revisionist” the other deems “accurate.”
Clay Chandler said Gov. Bryant issued the Confederate Heritage Month proclamation at the request of the Mississippi Sons of the Confederacy.
The Sons, as the group is knowing in the South, is one of the organizations pushing back against the movement, which was prompted by Dylann Roof’s shooting spree in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, to sweep the South clean of symbols of the Old South.
They are having some success.
“The pendulum has gone the other direction, where it’s no longer about trying to take away the emblems,” Dane Waters, a political consultant who worked on a failed effort this year to remove the battle flag from Mississippi’s state flag, told the New York Times. “It’s now about protecting them and insulating them from future efforts, even after another Charleston-type shooting.”
The Alabama Heritage Protection Act, which is before that state’s Senate, would prevent the removal of any historical monument, marker, or school name from public property unless a waiver is obtained from a committee of state legislators.
Georgia Rep. Tommy Benton (R) proposed legislation in January to make Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday and Confederate Memorial Day state holidays in Georgia. His proposal would also restore the names of rebel soldiers on roads across Georgia that were erased from state maps.
“We’re entitled to our heritage just like other people are entitled to theirs, and there seems to be an attempt to do Confederate cleansing,” Benton, a retired middle school history teacher, told the Athens Banner-Herald.
“I refer to that more as cultural terrorism than anything,” Benton said. “They’re attacking us for no reason at all. We’ve not done anything to provoke them or anything else.”