It’s taken a long time, but change is coming to Mississippi: our state flag—with its archaic symbol of the confederacy—is finally coming down.
Unlike the flags that commonly fly over other states, our flag was never intended to unite and uplift. It was designed to perpetuate a longstanding division among our citizens. It did not remind us of some brilliant past, but of a shameful period in our history.
Since its creation 126 years ago, that flag has only cast a pall over Mississippi. And like many other people in our state, I have lived through some of the worst of what that flag has represented.
That banner flew over our state when I was a small child, too young to understand that our family’s funeral home was performing the heartrending task of recovering the body of Emmitt Till—lynched here in Mississippi—and sending it home to his family in Chicago.
I saw it flying as a teenager who, together with my twin sister, Michelle, was one of the first Black students to integrate Yazoo City High School amid ongoing threats and incidents of violence.
And I saw it flying still years later when, as a member of the U.S. Congress, I came home to find the n-word scrawled on the door of my Mississippi home, where my two young children were sleeping.
Today, as then, that flag remains a symbol of hatred—an emblem of what Mississippi used to be, and the antithesis of equality and inclusion. But now, I have lived to see that flag finally—and irrevocably—consigned to history.
The effort to rid our state of this burden has been long and hard. But this is not about burying the past. It’s about looking to the future.
The fact is that Mississippi is on the cusp of historic progress. I look around our state and I see our people—black, brown, white, young and old—energized, ready for change, and ready to move Mississippi forward.
The same confluence of recent events—the pandemic, the weakening economy, and the outrage resulting from the tragic killing of George Floyd—that added fuel to the call to change our state flag, also has awakened Mississippians to other shortcomings in our communities, and given sudden urgency to our desire to effect broader changes in Mississippi—and across the United States.
The way forward will not be easy. But in my life, I have seen how every crisis and every challenge has the power to make us stronger and more determined. At this very moment in history, I see this same kind of strength and sense of purpose building—not only in Mississippi but throughout our nation.
I believe the challenges we face today have opened our eyes to the changes we desperately need to make at the local, state and federal levels to address inequalities in income, health outcomes and opportunities for educational advancement.
I look forward to seeing a new flag fly over Mississippi, and to continue our work to lead our nation forward under a new banner of fairness, equity, respect and cooperation.
Mike Espy is the former secretary of agriculture under the Clinton administration and former Congressman from Mississippi’s second congressional district. He is currently a private practicing attorney and the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Mississippi.