OPINION: A new battle over racist / Confederate symbols and statues?

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During the Barack Obama administration there were more than a few battles over the removal of Confederate symbols and statues of Confederate and other openly, staunch racists by various municipalities, states, and institutions. In a few cases there were scrimmages in the streets. This hot button issue was very clearly brought home when the Mississippi state flag was changed, removing its Confederate battle symbol and when Jackson’s city council voted to remove the statue of Andrew Jackson from City Hall earlier this decade.

The idea in those cases was to remove those symbols and statues from places of public prominence to places like museums and cemeteries; to not continue things as if these were people or events for society’s praise and celebration. Following federal policy, many people had come to feel that the battles over the symbols and statues were now a dead issue.

Last week, however, people were caught off-guard when Mississippi State Senator Angela Hill of Picayune introduced an amendment to the Department of Archives and History’s appropriations bill that would withhold the department’s funding until a prominent place was found for the statue of Governor Theodore G. Bilbo in the Museum of Mississippi History or the Civil Rights Museum. For the record, Hill’s amendment was quickly defeated.

That defeat should have been the end of the matter. Nevertheless, the writer focuses on it for several reasons, making it a legitimate story. 

On the one hand, Hill’s action indicates that there are still leaders who are not willing to bury the past devotion to the Civil War and the Jim Crow south. It raises the question as to whether the likes of Senator Hill will come back in the future with enough supporters to pass such legislation. Is it possible that her efforts may become widely successful, despite federal policy? 

It is clear that manifestations of racial supremacy have increased immensely since the advent of Donald Trump. Many people at all levels have been emboldened by the overtures of Trump and his “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) supporters to act out on their racist impulses. That being the case, it is possible and very likely that other political leaders in this state and around the country may begin clamoring for statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and others of their ilk, to again occupy places of prominence. 

On the other hand, and even worse, many of these descendants of the Confederacy and Jim Crow America, may begin more publicly acting on their racist feelings. One can see that states like Texas under Greg Abbott and Florida under Ron DeSantis have ramped up their racist outbreaks. The same thing has happened in other pockets of the country, including Michigan, Arizona, California, and other non-southern states.

With Senator Hill’s action and others in mind, we then raise the question regarding the statue of Andrew Jackson in Jackson. Is there some reason that, despite the overwhelming vote of the city council to proceed with Jackson’s removal, the statue remains in place? Are there powerful leaders who are opposed to the removal and thus they are accommodated? Is the refusal to remove Jackson a part of some unseen battle to leave such villains in place? Will efforts to now remove Jackson’s statue ramp-up a battle between die-hard Jackson supporters and leaders who would rather let sleeping dogs lie? 

In this day and time, especially in overwhelmingly Black communities, votes such as the one to remove Jackson’s statue should be promptly honored. Otherwise, why take the vote in the first place? Furthermore, what is the benefit of having Black elected officials, if they cannot act on the sentiments/desires of their Black constituents? It would be just as well to have supporters of Andrew Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Theodore Bilbo making such decisions. In other words, Trump and Angela Hill may be winning on these issues, despite the federal laws on such matters and despite the defeat of Hill’s amendment in the Mississippi State Senate.

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 OPINION: A new battle over racist / Confederate symbols and statues?

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
April 22, 2024