I know, this a departure from the usual; but it gives a meaningful point of view.
There’s quite a controversy going on in Mississippi these days concerning the state flag. Some folks say that the old flag is no longer realistic, and is to some extent hurtful in modern days. Some say that it is even racist and degrading. On the other hand, many supporters oppose changing the flag which has meant so much to them and their forebears over the past century or so. As the state is debating this, it’s just fighting a fight we already fit (and lost) at my Alma Mater, Ole Miss, several years ago.
My parents met at Ole Miss, like Betsy and I did. Big Robert and Miss Janice were married for 45 years before he died in a car wreck, and she passed on the next year, not wanting to live without him. Betsy and I have been married for 53 years and counting. So, whatever else Ole Miss has meant to this family, it’s meant true love! We had supper recently with a sorority sister of Betsy’s who was a bridesmaid in our wedding, and I regularly hunt with a half-dozen fraternity brothers from those days. Ole Miss has meant long-lasting friendships, as well.
It’s meant pride, too. I played Rebel football when we were the Number One Team in America, and while I was too small for a college guard and got hurt too much, finally rupturing a hip joint when I was clipped on a punt, no one can take being on the Best Team in America — shoot, in the world! — away from me. Betsy was a Top Six Beauty at a university which had produced two Miss Americas in the four years before she got there, plus she was a majorette (we called them Rebelettes), and as such, was closely associated with that Number One Team, too.
I’m saying that being a Rebel and a Rebelette means a great deal to both of us. It was a great time in our lives at a great school that almost was closed down by the politics of the day, and that Number One Team was a big factor in keeping the university open, when state and national politics could have closed it down.
I got out Momma’s 1936 Ole Miss Annual yesterday. While there was mention of “Ole Miss” aplenty, the team back then was called “The Flood.” I believe I’ve read that it was the next year when “The Rebels” was used for athletics. It’s an educated guess that the title “Ole Miss” refers to the mistress of the plantation, and during those days, the State was largely rural, and farming was the way of life. Nothing racial about that, unless you are just looking for something to gripe about.
There’s no mention I can find of “Colonel Rebel” nor of the flag commonly called “the Rebel Flag.” No pictures of it, either. My point is simply that the mascot of Colonel Rebel and the “Rebel Flag” in question became associated with Ole Miss during a time in American history when there was little racial controversy. This was when Germany was powering up to start World War II. To be factual, the Confederate Flag was never the flag we waved at Ole Miss, nor is it the flag included in the canton corner of the state flag. The “Rebel Flag” was designed by General Beauregard after the first Battle of Bull Run, when similarly uniformed troops mistook the two similar flags of the USA and CSA. It was used as a battle flag by the Army of Northern Virginia, and other units, and black, white, and red Confederate soldiers fought and died under that banner. Seems like the last Confederate general to surrender was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian.
But enough history. I wanted to give y’all a different perspective. A decade ago, I was on the staff of a writer’s conference, and Alex Haley, the author of ROOTS, was also on staff. Several of us were in the restaurant lounge one evening planning seminars, when the TV news came on. The first story covered a demonstration in either Georgia or South Carolina by people wanting to remove the “Rebel Flag” from the state flag.
This was followed immediately by a story on yet another famine or war in Africa, with gruesome pictures of the dead and dying, and the inevitable shots of starving children, bellies distended, runny noses, flies all over everything. Awful!
And the author of ROOTS declared, “You know, every time an African American sees a story like that, he ought to go find a Rebel Flag and kiss it! Because, there, but for American slavery, would be me and my descendants! Thank God I’m here, not there!”
The perspective of a nice guy, who was black, saying that America is truly a land of opportunity — if you will live in the present, and not sweat the small stuff of the past.