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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Mississippi celebrates Confederate Heritage Month

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s proclamation of April as Confederate Heritage Month yet again has some people questioning the governor’s motives.

Although the proclamation does not appear on the governor’s website, it does appear on the website for the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Earlier this month, the Clarion Ledger stated the governor’s spokesman, Knox Graham, confirmed to the Associated Press Bryant did sign the document proclaiming Confederate Heritage Month.

Governor Bryant explained why he supports Confederate Heritage Month the same day Graham confirmed Bryant’s signing of the proclamation.

“I believe Mississippi’s history deserves study and reflection, no matter how unpleasant or complicated the matter may be,” Bryant said.

Bryant said he believes studying the state’s past mistakes and successes can give insights to help propel the state forward.

Jason Ward, associate professor of history at Mississippi State University, calls the proclamation of things like Confederative Heritage Month, a “troubling trend.”

“It’s a lot of bad history,” Ward said. “It’s people who are very invested in believing things to the point that they will ignore and deny historical evidence, or they’ll twist historical evidence to fit some sort of narrative.”

Ward said people create bad history by “cherry picking” certain events to tell a certain story.

Most Confederate Heritage movements, Ward said, developed decades after the war, and were established by people who wanted to portray a certain version of history—one that downplays slavery and violence against African-Americans.

“The critique of confederate history month is that it’s really about elevating Confederate Heritage groups that have only a very limited story to tell,” Ward said.

Confederate Heritage Month represents the views of people with a limited view of history, Ward said, and this points to an underlying message: if confederate history is not a history for everyone, is Mississippi a state for everyone?

Like the flying of the state flag, Ward said he sees no justification for honoring the month of April as Confederate Heritage Month. He also said he does not think it is good for the state.  

Anne Marshall, associate professor of history and an undergraduate coordinator at MSU, researches historical memory and wrote a book about how her home state of Kentucky has come to view the Civil War.

Kentucky, like other border states Maryland, Missouri and Delaware, never seceded during the Civil War, and thus remained in the Union. What’s interesting about Kentucky, Marshall said, is how Kentuckians developed their historical memory of belonging to the Confederacy, despite the fact the state never seceded.

“People forget about Kentucky,” Marshall said, “and it is partially because the white Kentuckians did such as good job of telling a different story after the war. They made it look like they had been Confederates.”

Growing up in Kentucky, Marshall said the landscape of Civil War monuments very much tilted to the side of the Confederacy.

“They were supposedly remembering the war and why it was fought,” Marshall said. “Their reasons for remembering were as much about the present time period as they were about the past.”

Many of the monuments which came to decorate Kentucky and other southern states’ landscapes, Marshall Said, coincided with whites wanting to solidify their political and social power, and undo the political gains African-Americans had made during Reconstruction.

Stephen Middleton, professor and director of African-American Studies at Mississippi State University, said he thinks historical memory may hold the key to why Southern states continue to celebrate and honor the Confederacy as they do.

Middleton said Confederate Heritage Month serves as a reminder for some white southerner’s of how they wish to view the Civil War. Conflicts arise, he said, when those white Southerner’s views conflict with the views of Americans who think differently from them.

Middleton does not think the distance between the Civil War and the present is really as far as many people seem to think.

Although no living memory of the Civil War exists, Middleton points out, the historical memories of those who fought in the Confederacy live on in Confederate monuments.

“Even though the statues aren’t people, they are alive in the minds of people today— people who probably wouldn’t even recognize their ancestors if they were to get a picture,” Middleton said.

The problems that arise with Confederacy imagery, Middleton said, are based on the images locations. Middleton said there are three different spaces in which people operate: social space, historical space and public space.

In shared spaces, especially public ones, people expect a certain level of accommodation for a wide range of cultural dynamics, which Confederate monuments and statues do not provide, Middleton said.

Middleton said he does not want Confederate Heritage Month to become something society becomes bogged down by, because this only creates an unhealthy atmosphere.

Middleton said he will not stop people from celebrating the month, but he probably will not be attending any celebrations.

“Until we come to a place where we really see humanity as one,” Middleton said, “I think this is just something we will see happening.”

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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
Mississippi celebrates Confederate Heritage Month