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I pledge to never be passive, patriotic or grateful in the face of American abuse. I pledge to always thoughtfully bite the self-righteous American hand thinks it's feeding us. I pledge to. White Mississippians and white Americans will never dictate who I choose to be or what symbols I choose to imbue with meaning. A pledge to not allow American ideals of patriotism and masculinity to make me hard, abusive, generic and brittle. I pledge to messily love our people. And myself, better than I did yesterday.
I pledge to be the kind of free makes justly winning and gently losing possible to never, ever confuse cowardice with courage.
I pledge allegiance to the Mississippi freedom fighters who made all my pledges possible. I pledge allegiance to the baby Mississippi Liberation Fighters come in next. This is my pledge of allegiance to my United States of America. Into my Mississippi. Ready or not, this is a pledge to my home. Are you all standing up? History will be made here today. OK? Mississippi, a savage, uncivilized state, a state of extremes, murder and ratio hatred. Jackson, Mississippi, the state where Emmett Till was brutally murdered.
Medgar Evers was assassinated and shot in the back by a single round from a high powered rifle.
The state with the highest number of lynchings in the union, but also a staggeringly high number of Nobel Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners. The most charitable state in the Union. Mississippi is also the state with the highest percentage of black people in America. And for the last one hundred and twenty six years, Mississippi has had a Confederate battle flag on their state flag, sort of upper left hand corner. Red, white and blue stripes. Confederate battle flag.
Upper left. Other states like South Carolina and Georgia would fly the Confederate flag on their state capitals. But one by one, they took them off. Mississippi. Was the last holdout. Until last week. You might have heard about this on the news. I want to tell you the story behind this D flagging. It's an amazing story, something we've been following for months, because leave.
It's way more than just another story about taking down a thing. Just because we've had it for years doesn't mean we need to keep.
This is a journey that involves the clash of histories or outright hate freedom designs. Just hate and courage, just hate generations. There will be retribution and philosophies about how to make change. This is a story that I've been working on with my Dolly Parton's America colleague, Sheema. Only I she'll start us off. OK, so story starts. In a sea of red. There was just as far as the eye could see. Confederate flags in the stands instead of pompoms.
You see the flag waving like it was a pom pom. And then it didn't help. They will take their shirts off opinion on their body. Feels like a sea of Confederate. But we just kind of saw it as their symbol.
Can you just say your full name and OK, so Clara Justice and I'm the vice president of Business Complete Solutions in San Diego, the place that Claire is talking about is the University of Mississippi or Ole Miss.
This is a place where during football games, they would roll out a Confederate flag that was as big as the football stand. It was massive.
The second biggest Confederate flag in the country. That's Ashton Pittman, senior reporter at the Mississippi Free Press.
What's the biggest? I do not know what the first is, but it was if you walked around, cheerleaders carry Confederate flags, but it was everywhere.
But then the first domino falls. Where did you get it for me to use my microphone as well? Maybe it will you're using your cell phone, right? I'm going to record it with my bike, but I can you tell me the movement to D Dixie, the Mississippi State flag?
It is a long, convoluted, confusing, many headed history. But you could argue that it really goes back to one guy, John Hawkins, almost class of 1984.
They had a lot of different hats when I was at Ole Miss.
Aside from being a student, I was busy when I arrived with his first field goal, trying to figure out how to get on the basketball team, the basketball game.
Because I had been a pretty good high school player, a great score. In of course, the elite athlete would have got that injured, wasn't as good a basketball player as I thought I was. What off to do some other things.
John got involved with student government and became president of the black student body.
He was in all kinds of committees. Was it a black fraternity? He was basically a man about campus. Now, just for context.
We'll hear about 500 black students and whole campus. Of what? Thirteen thousand. So was that percentage wise?
Two percent, maybe three percent. Closer to eight. But still. So it's a really small number. So then.
And you got to keep in mind that this was only 20 years after a man by the name of James Meredith. James H. Meredith became the first black student to enter the University of Mississippi.
And the town becomes an armed battlefield.
President Kennedy had to send the National Guard armed with tear gas and sidearm over that.
Two men are killed. One hundred and fifty are arrested after a night of terror.
Thousands of federal troops. Days of riots. It was rough. In any case, may be one day, John, sophomore year. He's sitting in a black student committee meeting. And they're discussing the cheerleading squad. There had never been a black cheerleader at Ole Miss. And it's one hundred and thirty four years of existence. And my good friend, Claire Bibbs. There we go. We always wanted to be an obvious cheerleader.
She thought I was gonna be trying out her partner who was helping her child was a white male, which was in and of itself full of unheard of at the time at Ole Miss. But they spoke to the fact that things are starting to change on campus. Yes. Problem was, the white guy gets injured. And now Claire had no partner.
She was in the lurch about two weeks or so before trials. And we were having this committee meeting trying to determine, okay, so what can we do? Claire is our best hope to ever achieve this. We just didn't have a solution. And then someone asked me if I would consider doing it because, I mean, I was athletic enough.
He was he's very tall and he's very strong. I'm like five one and a half.
John has to be six to maybe six. Three. I never could do anything about cheerleading. I knew that, you know, Claire, wait about one hundred and ten hundred fifteen pounds. And, you know, in the weight room back in those days, I could throw 150 pounds around all day. So. Okay, so I ended up saying, yes, sure, I help her.
All right. So for two weeks, John and Claire met up, practiced after and learned to be a cheerleader for the first time, was learning how to do partners cram to learn all the moves like what they call a chair extension, where she stands in front of him.
He puts his hands by your waist down and she hops out. A guy takes his right hand and puts it under your butt. And she sort of lifted up into the air to sit on his hand. That's held high above his head. And he hold your other left leg with his hand high on the thigh, above the knee, never on the move.
It was a lot of lifting of me, a lot of picking up.
You pick up the girl, throw the girl as high as you can. Catch the girl. Don't let to her. Keep in mind, back in these days, old miss was like the national cheerleading champion. Very competitive show. Being the oldest cheerleader was a big deal.
Anyhow, John got up to speed and the two of them try out for judges, along with hundreds of other mostly white students. And then there was this kind of faith that the threw us a curveball. Because, you know, the process at Ole Miss was a little bit stacked, right?
Right. So the way the cheerleading squad at Ole Miss worked is that there was a qualifying process. You had to try out. You'd have this huge tryout where you would get narrowed down to the top 10, the top 10 males in the top 10 females. Well, as fate would have it, we both make the top 10. We both make the club.
Oh, wow. That's a pretty big deal. Yeah.
And that in and of itself was phenomenal.
The complication was how the process worked is that after that first cut, then it went to a vote, a popular vote.
So once you've gone through the gauntlet and demonstrated that you had the ability, it then became a popularity contest on campus where you didn't have to go out and campaign and get your groups or friends, fraternities, sororities, whatever, to vote you in.
So the votes were paper just by word of mouth. Of course.
You know, I was campaigning for Ray was campaigning for Claire and trying to see if we could get her on that squad.
But John was a very visible guy, whereas I was the opposite. I was a journalist. I wasn't in any sororities.
Make a long story short, I ended up getting elected, but I did. Oh, that's complicated. Yeah, it was.
It was it was a real is a real complicated issue. What was the conversations with with Claire. Right. Well, right after that, it was devastated because I didn't want to do it. I mean, I was only there for her.
I was at a friend's house and someone called me. I was like, OK. I didn't make it. Not a big deal. I think everybody was just in shock. Wait a minute. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. They were like it wasn't supposed to go down like this. How did this happen? I think is Catahoula. Everybody looked at it and they were they kind of looked at me like, oh, my God, we're so sorry.
I'm like, don't be sorry. You don't understand. Coming out a Jim Crow. I wasn't used to things going my way anyway.
So Claire told us she grew up in a rural town in central Mississippi, that even as late as 1976, 1976 had separate entrances for black and white citizens and us.
And just because you guys never talked it out. At that time. No, we didn't. Because, I mean, even before she died, I could have that conversation about what does it mean and so forth.
The evening of the election, April 22nd, 1982. It was such a momentous occasion. John says initially the vibe was positive. It's a great spirit on campus.
Both, you know, black and white kids really were celebrating that achievement in and of itself.
Reporters, though, chased him around campus, finally cornered him in the student union, and then began to bombard him with some difficult questions.
After that, I'm thinking, holy cow, you know, what did what did I get him into?
One reporter asked, would he be comfortable with a white female partner as the ghost of Emmett Till entered the room? Apparently, John answers. This is a new age and the time has passed for prejudice.
And of course, that's if this question comes up and someone asks me about the Confederate flag and if I was going to follow this tradition and wave the rebel flag, that's how every game started.
With male cheerleaders running out and waving a giant battle flag was me. I never expected to have to ask that question.
John said he literally had never contemplated it. Because he never thought he'd be a cheerleader to begin with. In that moment between when he was asked the question and when he answered a few things went through his mind.
He thought about his grandmother. She died when she was a hundred and two years old. Wow. So imagine this for a moment. This is my grandmother, not my great great grandmother. This is my grandmother whose mother was born a slave. He thought about the fact that when he got chosen for the cheerleading squad, he suddenly started seeing a whole lot more of those rebel flags being carried around campus. Almost as if they came out in reaction to his presence.
He thought about how the tuition he paid helped by those flags that we had no interest in.
And so the question came up about the flag.
He says he just looked at the reporter's square in the eyes and said, no, of course not. The answer was no. And that just came out that wasn't premeditate. No. It was instinctive. I hadn't even thought about it.
For a black person like John carried, the Confederate flag is like a Jewish person carrying a swastika. From the moment he said no. The story exploded with the equivalent of viral. Keep in mind, this is before social media.
The Confederate flag is at the heart of an emotional racial dispute at the University of Mississippi.
We talk about agitation in the context of George Ford. No, I know. I can tell you with agitation, much like the flag of the Confederacy has always been the cause of not so subtle agitation. But those feelings had been unspoken until the university's first black cheerleader refused to carry the flag. People were leading hostile protest on the campus. John received death threats.
The Ku Klux Klan held an off campus march in protest. Someone said his dorm room on fire.
Probably what the most hated person in the south. You know.
This is Curtis P.D., Scott. He was in John's fraternity at the time.
John and I were best friends and they were two doors down.
He told me this story about just how bad things got.
There was one night, he says, when they were all at the fraternity house and the police came in and said, we want child to turn off the light. Get down on the floor. And we were like, what is going on in our lives? But we could hear the chants coming from afar and it would get louder and louder. So, you know, we looked out there and we saw the mob marching down Jackson Street, 1000 white students held a noisy rally in support of the flag.
Earlier this week, flag waving white students marched on a black fraternity house. I will never forget the chant. We won't help it. We won't. Hopkins is almost as though they want a break in the house. I want us to get John and throw him to the mob.
Curtis says black students from around the campus started running to the fraternity house to defend them. But the police stopped them.
Thank God it didn't happen. So that would have been a horrible scene. I mean, it would've been totally horrible.
No state police record was called out at one point.
State troopers, state police, which reminded a lot of people of 1962 mobs, came out, stopped traffic.
Black students held a counter demonstration demanding that the university find another symbol that was the carry through into the full year.
When I was on the on the squad, your game days were quite interesting.
John says before games, they take him from a safe house, sneak them into the stadium where he'd then lead. Cheers for people who booed him. Wow. It must have been really lonely standing on that field.
Well, not only on that field, but on every field.
Every time we showed up for a football game after twelve football games of this 20 something basketball games, continued protests, counterprotests the chancellor of the school.
I think his name was Porter, a man named Porter Fortune issued a statement.
If there is a feeling that racism exists on our campus, I want to be the first to attempt to get rid of the mob.
They marched on his mansion, you know, so he's probably will play what I need to do. I feel like my life is in jeopardy now.
And as a result, your flag has been dropped. As the school's symbol.
Can you read that article from April 23, 1983?
You know an old man now. So if I get my glasses, I need the chance of the University of Mississippi trying to diffuse a recent racial dispute said yesterday the Confederate flag will no longer be used as a school symbol. This was. The lightning rod event. The NAACP for years had been thinking about starting a campaign against the display of the Confederate flag. They wanted to take this down. But they thought there is no way it could ever happen in Mississippi.
It took this one guy to say, no, I'm not going to wave the flag for everyone to just ponder the idea that it could be possible.
We have subsequently talked to Claire. You know, I think she's she's even said it that maybe God chose you for that moment, more so than me, because he knew that you can handle it.
I think in hindsight, that was that was meant to be. It was meant to be that way. He stood his ground. He didn't carry it. He didn't let them push him off the squad. I don't know. I would have had the strength. So I'm glad it was John.
You know, sometimes the universe lines up in such a way that it's time for change. It's so weird to be talking to you right at this minute, because right now, literally, as we are doing this interview, the Mississippi state legislature is meeting and they may be about to take down the flag.
I just got a text from a senator saying in 10 minutes, like literally like in five minutes, the flag could go down.
Well, hopefully I'll do the right thing. Yeah, it's it's it's long overdue. So in 1983, the University of Ole Miss decides no more Confederate flags can be flown at Ole Miss. This was the first domino. But it was only a baby domino.
White students supported the chancellor's decision to permit individuals to carry the flag.
He's trying to thread the needle right as long as I can bring it to the game.
And the even trickier part was since the Confederate flag was actually embedded in the Mississippi state flag and had been since 1890, for instance, old Miss was a state institution. The Confederate battle flag was still there by default in front of the school administration buildings flapping in the breeze and would remain that way for another 32 years. Until it is heartbreaking videotape taken just before the church massacre that shocked the world.
2015, a deranged racist walks into a historic black church in South Carolina, kills nine people and is later found in an old photograph to be holding the Confederate battle flag.
Last night, the University of Mississippi Student Government Association voted to remove the flag bearing the Confederate battle emblem.
The school then finally decides they cannot fly the state flag.
The recent racially motivated church shootings in South Carolina giving momentum to those who want it taken down. So at this point.
The flagpoles are empty. And not just at Ole Miss. All across the state, you begin to see businesses removing the Mississippi state flag. Question was what to put in its place. And that's when you start to see another flag being hoisted. And this brings us to chapter two. Owe you to Lauren. Here we go. Give me a hug. Oh, we can't do that.
We zoomed with Lauren Stennis for the first time back in April. Oh, hell. Stop, Broom.
It just came, right? Oh, really? Oh, I just met my first room with just a couple of days ago. They're so loud. Damn you, Roomba. It was early pandemic.
Lauren was quarantined in her home slash art studio in Jackson, Mississippi, with her cat and dog and Roomba. Her journey to the center of the Mississippi flag fight takes a very different trajectory than Johns.
Around the same time that he was stepping foot on old Miss campus for the first time, she was talking to birds.
Well, my mother fed birds when I was growing up.
And, you know, these goldfinches that are just stunning when they're in their summer plumage. I just was entranced as a kid and to the point that I started thinking birds were talking to me. But there's a pill for that. Yeah.
So Lawrence says her childhood was pretty idyllic.
I would lay down in the middle of clover and watch clouds. I would get little locust shells off the trees. I played in the creeks and looked at tadpoles.
And when you were that young, like seven or eight, did you have any concept of that? Your grandfather was who he was?
Not exactly. I really had no sense of kind of who my grandfather was in the larger sense. Lauren's grandfather, by the way, with United States Senator John C. Stennis of Mississippi is John Stennis.
Or was John Stennis. He died in 1995. Southern Democrat who served in the Senate for over 41 years and for much of that time reground extreme on the civil rights.
We've just let it run away.
He was a staunch segregationist. No doubt.
I think I became conscious of that probably in high school really obscures what that was like to to learn that, because if you read his early letters with people, all them probably he talks really openly about how he believes black people are inferior.
And we've let them do largely as they wanted to do and didn't punish him.
The fact that he opposed the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and it must be stopped if we have personal liberty and freedom left for anyone, even a holiday for Martin Luther King. And I'm certain in my belief. How do you process that?
Given that given what you believe and also the fact that he is your grandfather. I mean, you know, hearing and reading various things, you know, I get a little nauseated, to be honest, it's become twofold. One, because. That's just such a. Revolting belief that I'm related, you know, that he was a white guy born in 1981, less than 40 years after the civil war in a rural unincorporated tent. You know, I mean, I just like.
Am I shocked? No. I mean, I am able to see him in his context.
I would love it if he had been this amazing, you know, guy who was able to transcend everything he was taught and came out as this early progressive leader. It was wrong. It's indefensible.
But am I shocked? Not particularly. Lawrence, political awakening and subsequent interest in flags was slow to take by her own admission, after high school, she went to Tulane.
I left Tulane with a one point seven GPA because I just quit going to class. I think at that point I was just kind of raging against the machine and I didn't even know what the machine was and really I was part of it.
She says she started to see and understand that machine when she transferred from Tulane to Millsap's back in Mississippi and then fell into a rabbit hole of ethics classes and women's studies courses and soon began to write cutting essays about politics.
For an all progressive newspaper, we were just we were initially just shocked as someone who came from what appeared to us to be like such voracious race's beginnings could give her, at that point, 21, 22 year old life to causes that would probably make her grandfather like squeal.
This is author QSA Laman again, who started us off with that alternative pledge. He and Lauren worked on that paper together at Millsaps and they politically organized together, you know, growing up.
We were always kind of taught that. There was a group of people called good white folks, and those were, you know, and you question the motives of good white folk. But, you know, when somebody, like, bleeds over to that category, like, you know, we knew early on that lawn was good white folk. OK, so let's jump forward to your flag.
When did you begin that journey? It started when I moved back.
This is after she had gone to school, moved away, become a social worker and an artist, and then returned bottle a little house and.
Just instinctively, when, you know, is like I'm home and I was excited and I was proud and I like fellow house and I wanted to put out a flag. You know, I'm back in Mississippi. And I would never, never have our current state flag. And I just I just kind of sat down. And just thought, this is ridiculous. This is absurd that Mississippi didn't have a flag that anyone can fly without a moment's hesitation. So after reflecting on that, I began to do some research.
So I ended up down at archives. She said she just wanted to know if there are other options out there besides the 1894 Mississippi State flag with the Confederate battle flag on it. And she says the first thing that she encountered was that there was a flag before that flag.
The Magnolia flag, as it was called. This was the flag that people said was the first state flag of Mississippi.
It was created in 1861. What you see is a white background and cartoonish green tree in the middle.
It's like it's so ugly. It's cute because, I mean, the magnolia tree is a blob.
Yeah. Just like us. It is a like s a little like a big as green afro, like a what we call east. Like a warped afro. What's a warped afro. Like a white. I ask that, you know, ask these things to be round.
You know, we used to have froze like a frozen tang wouldn't be like round it be like off to the side if you fell asleep. It just it just was I mean, to meet us the first thing I thought, oh, I should like Afro in the middle, but it's nice shape. Right.
Okay, so Lauren initially thought, oh, I'll just fly the Magnolia flag.
Problem is, it was commissioned and designed for the newly seceded Republic of Mississippi 1861.
There you go. Okay. And I was like, oh, at a certain point, Lauren just thought, wow, I'm an artist. Let me see what I can come up with.
I started to kind of doodle. I started just because I'm new. Flags that I love, like Tennessee has great flag. Colorado. New Mexico. New good flags. When I saw them and I thought, what is it?
That question led her to the wonderful world of Vexillology.
It took me forever to be able to say it. But it's the study of flags. There's a whole field of study about flags. It is a problem, primarily a bunch of old white guys. This is a flag that will mansplaining.
And this is a flag to ask as a flag. This is the flag.
They were so excited when I joined the North American BEXELL Theological Association. Certainly, I think the youngest member. And what. Yeah. And one of their only female members. And this is a flag.
She ultimately got to work coming up with a design that looks a little like a deconstructed remixed American flag. He's got three vertical stripes, red, white, red.
And that red color really symbolizes the blood spilled by Mississippians who have given their lives for liberty and justice in the middle of the flag.
You have a circle of stars.
When I was looking at indigenous art among tribes that were native to Mississippi even before statehood, I would see a circular or a spiral element.
And some of the work circles, she says, was a nod to them, also to the endless cycles of history. You know, no beginning, no end. There are precisely 19 stars in the circle for the 19 states that join the union before Mississippi and inside the circle to star in the middle is the 20th.
And it's the biggest and the best, and that's us. Lauren took that mockup and sent it to a guy recording Starting Now named TDK.
I'm the secretary of the North American Vexingly Logical Association.
He's famous in the flag world. He's a God.
Ted literally wrote the book Good Flag, Bad Flag, where he outlines the five principles of good flag design, simplicity, meaningful symbolism, few colors, no lettering or seals and distinctiveness.
So I emailed him just and said, You don't know me from Adam's house carpet. Here's what I have and I would love your feedback. And he was so kind and so generous. He wrote back and he said, I love your design.
All I would do is make the stars bigger, bigger, as big as you can get them, you know. But you've got a top 10 flag design, top 10 United States five design here. It's great.
It may well be showing Mississippians that a different flag could represent a state.
And good luck with that. But I've had informal conversations with at least five different people who are working on proposed flags in Mississippi.
Like like like recently in the last couple of years. Yes.
Having a good design, says Ted, is just the beginning. And there's a lot more to flags than what's on them. In our conversation, he walked us through the long history of flags.
And I gotta say, it's it's sort of put the whole Mississippi flag fight in a new context.
Flags started out as markers on the battlefield. And this is true all the way through the civil war. It's very important to know where your troops are on the battlefield. And they are marked by flags. Imagine, he says, two armies face off. It's a melee. The sides get confused and you need to regroup, look for the flag and you run to the flag. So it's important to have someone carry that flag. And one of the problems when you're carrying a flag is you can't shoot back.
You are defenseless. And everybody wants to shoot at you because if you can knock down the enemy's flag, you reduce their ability to know where their troops are. So the culture of the military was to imbue great honor in being the flag bearer because that's what you needed to do to get someone to sacrifice. There are stories of battles in the civil war where there would be one charge across the battlefield.
One would be shot. The next guy would pick it up. He'd be shot. The next guy would pick it up. He'd be shot. Six people would die carrying that flag.
So it's very important in military propaganda. I would say to have people feel strongly about the flag.
Oh, that's so interesting. Like, in some sense, the way in which we revere and honor and sync to and then fight over the flag is a direct spiritual line back to the battlefield.
It could well be add to that, he says, in America. We don't have a king or queen. We put all of that deference up on our flag. And you feel the emotional weight of that when you look back to 2001.
Governor, talk. Mr. Speaker, members of the Mississippi legislature. Chief Justice Pittman.
After years of people submitting bills to change the flag that went absolutely nowhere in 88. 1992, 93. The governor at the time, Ronnie Musgrove.
I implore you to hear our people again, urge the legislature to give the decision to the people.
I urge you to put this issue on the ballot in a referendum.
And leading up to that vote. There were a series of town halls across Mississippi. Tonight's first Friday, Flagg's special features a representative sampling of the views expressed by Mississippians at the five public hearings dealing with the future of Mississippi's flag.
You can watch these town halls online. They took place in auditoriums, church basements, and they are Morial. Well, their battles.
Where does it stop? So we are tired of this onslaught against the Confederate heritage. It needs to stop and it needs to stop right now.
Our state flag represents grit, guts and cohodas. Our state our state flag represents pride. I don't get it. This is the. Up to now, we will not go back. We will. Go back. That flag must be all over the country. We are the laughing stock of America. That's. Represent Mississippi being 1750. In education 50. And per capita income number one in infant mortality. No. One in medicine, we can not afford to keep that fire.
We. This flag is just like my wife. My wife gets it. And. State flag is not up there. Claire laughs Our state flag represents blood, sweat and tears of countless Southerners who are far side button any of y'all. Now, listen, Mr. Warner, Mr..
When it was the head of the flag commission, former governor, he was in the room. You are despicable. You are in a netbook. You don't have enough. Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. No, no, no, no, no, no. It's not my time. Let's listen. You have been nothing but a parasite. Your entire career, your sorry law, your your gutless. You are worthy of being tarred and feathered and run out of this state.
It goes on and on like this. One of the craziest moments in a sea of crazy is when a 17 year old white girl with bright orange hair steps up to the mike.
I am a young girl working in a grocery store environment. I do work with blacks and I have several, not just one or two, but several friends who are black. One person said, where would the slaves in America be today if it weren't for slavery? They probably still be in Africa enslaved or other European nations. Most not all of the African-American rice living in America today got their last name from their masters. Are you prepared to give up your name?
I don't think you are. Because if you get my flight, I will get your name. So that was 2001. And before we get back to Lauren, as you watch these videos, one thing that you can't help but ask herself is where do some of these people get these ideas from? Right. But I will say that this is a question that Ashton Pittman, the reporter we spoke to earlier, asked himself and he started to actually track down some of the people in the video, including orange haired girl who, by the way, is a radiologist today and was valedictorian in her high school class.
And what he discovered is that most of them went to what's called segregation academies.
Yes, almost all of them were set up in either 1969, 1970 or 1971.
I mean, this Supreme Court ruling will be a fabrication ordered and methods that they began today to desegregate the public schools came in December 1969.
Reaction to the ruling was predictable. Angry and threat by the start of the school year when whites were abandoning the public school. January 1970.
Private schools are appearing in great numbers.
You had of white kids not returning to their public schools. And go into makeshift schools that were set up in white churches.
White volunteers are converting a tent factory into a classroom or in makeshift building.
Many of these schools represent a last resort for white parents determined to resist federal desegregation orders.
Like that's the origin of a ton of these academies. I think at one point there were like one estimate.
It is a number in the thousands.
Yeah, they they went up overnight. So if you make sure your kids only go to white schools with other white kids, you don't have to worry about, you know, maybe your kids developing some empathy for their black classmates, having a greater understanding of viewpoints that are outside of that kind of white supremacist mindset. And in 2001 and still stay honestly, a lot of these private academies that popped up in 1970, 71, even in 2001, a lot of them were still either all whites are, you know, ninety nine, 98 percent white.
And that's still true today.
In fact, Ashin told us that he and his husband, William, found that over a third of the current Mississippi senators today attended segregation academies. In any case, in that 2001 referendum, 64 percent chose the 1894 flag over the alternative.
Mississippi voted to keep the state flag Confederate battle flag at all.
And people were like, well, 65 percent of people in Mississippi voted to keep flag No. Sixty five percent of the people who showed up that day, but only 23 percent of our population showed up to vote that day.
Suffice to say, the vote went along racial lines, but the mostly white pro flag contingent, unsurprisingly, had better turnout at that point.
I will admit, I got. It was a little daunting.
As Lauren was doodling new flag designs, rooting around in the archives and reading all the letters people sent during that 2001 referendum, she started to wonder, how do you prevent that from happening again? I mean, obviously part of it is entrenched and systemic. Part of it.
It occurred to her was just a pattern that she had seen in her social work, where one person saying stop only causes the person. They're saying it, too, to dig in harder.
This is kind of where the psychology part comes in.
I began to realize that many of the other previous effort took the angle of trying to shame some Mississippians psychologically. If you're saying that's the hashtag that a lot of people were using.
Take it down, take it down, take it down now, psychologically, if you're saying I'm going to take something from you, even if you're not that attached to it, but you might start to squeeze it a little bit.
This flag is just like, what would that be like? No, wait a minute. That's the psychology of loss is really strong.
But if I'm offering you something and I'm doing something positive and I'm not threatening you, it just makes sense. And so my my my hashtag has been put it up.
OK, so 2015, after Lauren had designed a flag workshop, did a bit with Ted Kaye. She puts the design on Facebook. I didn't have any plan at that point. She said it was just for her friends to see. But then a few things happen. There's the mass shooting at the black church in South Carolina. Ole Miss then votes to take down the state flag on their campus. And in the wake of that, Lauren gets a message from a state senator saying badly.
I just introduced a bill to change the state flag to your flag. And I typed what? Wow. She did not reach out to me. She had just seen what I was doing on Facebook. I was like, go for it. So that really got the ball rolling.
That particular bill didn't go anywhere. Once again, all flag bills died in committee. But oh, game on.
So I she went ahead and Manufaktura, a bunch of her flags anyway, took him to a local flag store in Jackson, Mississippi.
Y'all keep the money.
I just I just asked if you will please make it affordable, because this was a moment when business after business was following old Mrs. Lead and taking that state flag down, which left a lot of empty flagpoles for her flag to go up and within a year, her flag, which she called the Mississippi hospitality flag, but everybody else called the Stennis flag.
It was the number one selling flag in the state, which is. Wow. She was beginning to outsell the 1894 state flag many times over.
I mean, that that flag store is making bank and more and more, it's caught on. You see it find more places. But last not this current session that got called because of the pandemic, but the session before that. I was approached by a Republican lawmaker who said he thought about doing a specialty license plate.
Her and this Republican lawmaker cooked up a plan that when people order these vanity plates, these are license plates where you have special messages on them.
Those plates would arrive with her flag on the license plate rather than the actual state flag.
He said, let's just not draw any attention to it, because it turns out that the way they passed the specialty tags, a group them all together on one bill and just kind of pass them at the end of the session.
And so people may or may not read it very carefully. So I had to sit on it. I didn't say a word and it passed. We've already raised close to forty thousand dollars for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History because I shows them as the recipient for their proceeds.
It's like you guys are leading a quiet revolution. Well, I would never use the term like revolution or whatever, you know, because that's threatening. Yes, I am.
I am way behind the scenes and I'm really quiet versus, you know, it like when people go change the flag rally, I'm like, oh, shit. Oh, shit.
Like the old the whole time. That's been Lawrence approach. Keep it stealth. No referendums, no public debates. Just get it out there on cars and banks and fraternities and bars so that people start seeing it.
Oh, you're my neighbor has that. Oh yeah. I saw that at Steve's Diner downtown. You know, it's like that's how it happens.
It becomes inevitable. It's like we're we're almost there. We're almost there.
I mean, you know, my thing with Lauren is like I just think, you know, why people in a way that I don't I mean, I think white people have talked to her and said things to her that they've never said to me in one of my phone calls with Casey Laman, Lauren's friend writer, and I asked him what he thinks about the stealth approach.
Mirco seated, that's all. I just didn't. The interesting thing about Lauren, and this is, to her credit, I guess, is that all of her moves seem to be predicated on Lake PSV of white folks. Right, lately. This is what they'll do. This is what they'll feel. This is what this this is. And I feel that. But. But does it. But there's a there's a large population of the state that is not those people.
You know, I'm so I'm not trying to to disagree with Lauren. She's talking pragmatically. You know, I'm saying I get it. I feel it. I just can't always be thinking about what what the racist white people are going to do. The civil rights movement is over.
We started talking about those 2001 townhall videos. It ended when you started trying to put me down. How? If you watch the whole thing. There's a pattern that emerges. Do you see a lot of black people dressed in their Sunday?
Best to let me finish talking, please. Right.
And making a deliberate point to speak respectfully and calmly.
God, I hope God put on my heart to say something might change somebodies life. Whereas you see a lot of the white people are state flag you.
It's not your fault. You were just yelling all of those reasons.
That is why I'm here. I literally had to leave because, like, it's humiliating when you always approach it with that sort of kindness in the face of I'm telling you to you better fucking shut the fuck up and watch us commemorate your suffering. And we're like, I heard what the gentleman said a few minutes about me not being worth a damn.
Would just like to E.M.S. like does not. That's not that don't feel natural to me. One of the things that Casey is famous for in Mississippi, in addition to his writing, is for getting into a major dust-up at Millsaps with a bunch of white fraternity boys who dressed up in blackface and Afro wigs and called his girlfriend the N-word.
I'm sure you see, Cranwell talked about what happened to her and in 1963 in the jail. Right. Did you ever see a Fannie Lou Hamer is. Oh, you said yes.
Fannie Lou Hamer speech where she's talking about the county jail and put in the book and getting arrested in 1963 and how she was going to jail. She doubts, you know, she heard a woman down the hog in a beat and they beat the white man, came to my guards, came in and he made black men beat her damn near to death.
I lay it on my face. The first Negro began to be fucked up for kidney and I would be the Negro until he was dead.
I mean, I listen to without crying, like she's talking about white and putting her in prison, making black men incarcerated. Men eat the fuck out of her, too damn near dead. This is an account we will read just because she wanted to walk away.
But but. But but the wonder to me that she could comport herself to tell her story is not to me like she was.
So the land of the free and the home of the brave prepared, even though she's like reaching intellect as well. A fucking, like, horror that she should never had, too. It is ancestrally people in the face of terror and ultimate fucking humiliation have to comport themselves a particular way. The white folks have never asked to do. And that's it, is this foul, these people? That's been it a day. I'm just like, fuck it.
Yeah. So anyway. OK, so up until about a month and a half ago, here's where we were at. You had Lauren quietly campaigning, KSA wondering if quiet was the way to go. And you had Tate Reeves governor was seen with the governor of Mississippi, a guy they both went to school with and who was actually in that fraternity where the kids wore blackface.
The photos show members of the fraternity in blackface, some holding up a Confederate flag.
You had him at Army. This is the beginning of the pandemic declaring April Confederate History Month. Meanwhile, in the legislature, conservative Republicans held still hold a supermajority.
All of which is to say that the prospects a month and a half ago of anything happening quickly or at all with the state flag were very, very low. But then everything changes. That's after the break. Hi, this is now live from Hamburg, Germany. Radiolab, supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, announcing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at W w w Sloan dot org.
This is Radiolab, I'm Jad Abumrad here with Shimoni I. And we're in the middle of a deep dive into the story behind the removal of the Confederate battle flag clad Mississippi state flag.
Now, as we talked about just a month and a half ago, you had a situation where, despite Lawrence Denis's best efforts to sneak a new flag into the conversation, despite people like John Hawkins taking a stand against the flag, you had a situation where there was a Republican supermajority in the Senate, a governor who had just declared Confederate Heritage Month. It seemed like if things were going to change, I was going to happen really slowly and we'd probably be talking about this for another hundred and twenty six years.
That is until May 25th, 2020.
This is ridiculous. Cities from coast to coast have seen protests of outrage and anger over George Floyds death in Mississippi. Like everywhere, people hit the streets and the chants of Black Lives Matter morphed seamlessly into. Take it down. Protesters here in Jackson rallied in front of the governor's mansion.
He's fighting along with calls for an end to police brutality, where citizens calling for changes to our state's symbol. Governor Tate Reeves says the people of Mississippi made a decision in 2001. An overwhelming decision to maintain the flag.
He's not planning to take any individual action to take it down. Cut to the Mississippi State House of Representatives Rep. Chris Bell.
I represent House districts 65 and Jackson was between sessions, a Republican legislator. And I actually passed each other in the hallway on my way to grab some coffee. And she made the statement, you know, look, you guys are working on trying to get this flag. I will be able to help out behind the scenes. Last year, a great. And we started the ball rolling.
It's time for us to do something now.
Soon, Chris and seven other legislators, including Qandi Yates, representative District 64, me in a back room to work up a bill.
We are at a point in the legislature, though, where the deadline to introduce general bills was was months ago.
The timing of this was such that in just a few weeks, the entire state capital was all about to go on break for the year.
So for this to happen now, we would have to suspend the rules, which requires a two thirds vote. Two thirds of the House of Representatives and two thirds of the senators have to vote to allow the rules to be suspended.
Mathematically crazy odds. But I was vocal about it.
Yeah, I think we are finally starting to see a shift to get this changed.
So the group sets out to whip some votes before they're able to gather even a little bit of momentum. Their plans leak.
And an article hits the press saying that, hey, representatives are meeting about this and they're going to try to change the flag. So the initial media leak was probably untimely.
Immediately, there was pushback from those representatives that live in rural areas, started hearing from their constituents. Hello. Hi. Representative Morgan. Yes. This is Representative Ken Morgan, Republican. He represents a rural area in southern Mississippi. Your constituents. What is their voice?
About seventy four percent believe it like it is. I just stopped at a convenience store on my way home and brought people in and told me these very words. Don't let them change our play.
Wow. Dang. Chris. Hi, Chris, this is Sheema. Hey, how are you? I also spoke with Senator Chris McDaniel. He's been one of the most outspoken critics of changing the flag.
You know, it's funny. It's not really about a flag. To me, it's about a philosophical position. We're talking about monuments, flags, which, of course, translates into history. And we have one side of this debate. The left will become increasingly intolerant of diverse viewpoints, increasingly intolerant of other people's opinions. From my perspective, the price we pay to live in a free society is to occasionally be offended. Diversity of viewpoints matter. Speech matter.
Expression matters. Their side of the equation doesn't share that opinion any longer. They want uniformity. They want doctrinal truth. And they are just as guilty of being so blind to diversity that they basically quell it at every turn. I think this is a fight philosophically for the future of the country. It's not simply about the flag. It's a position, a mental position. And that's why I think a referendum process would be so important. When you have a referendum, the people are forced into a discussion of the issues.
There he expressed the default Republican position. If you want to change the flag, send it to a vote. That's what we did in 2001 and that's what we should do now.
Does that mean in the Constitution Committee you think that the bill will be like, just killed there? Oh, yeah. It's already dead. Oh, really?
It's already I think it's I think the bill's already dead.
Turns out just a few days after the bill was introduced, what happened behind the scenes.
And I learned this from another representative, Robert L. Johnson, the third representative.
This 94 is that the lieutenant governor, Delbert Hosemann, a conservative, did the thing that always happens. The thing that's been happening in one form or another for 120 years, he diverted the baby flag bill to a hostile committee.
He sent it to a committee loaded with ultra conservative Republicans. I mean, at the end of the day, the flag passing on that desert is gonna turn on whether or not Republicans find that. We've got to decide if someone need to do. Can you just hold on a second? I'm picking my mother up. And just like that, poof. There was one day last week, Railsback. Holy shit, this is going to happen. And then the very next day I was like, Fuck.
It's over. Lorne and I spoke on the phone that day. She was unusually bitter.
But I think it's going to be kind of a hell of a pay situation because people here have been so fucking horrible, so fucking far.
We talked for a while. As protests raged outside of my window in Brooklyn and hers in Jackson, Mississippi, I told her about something I'd heard in one of my interviews that maybe the only way that the flag will ever come down in Mississippi is if what happened in South Carolina.
Top lawmakers, they are now joining the chorus, calling for it to be removed after last week's shootings at that historic black church happens there.
I'm horrified at the thought that there's got to be a martyr for this. We've had so many here, just like I mean, I want somebody staff. I mean, this is crazy. We're having this discussion. No, no.
Eight days before the end of the legislative session. That's where things stood. Nothing was happening and nothing was going to happen.
Basically, what people want to do is run out the clock. But then June 18th, we begin with breaking news, breaking news. The FCC is considering withholding title games tonight amid the ongoing flag fight in the state. Enter the mighty voice of college sports.
The S.E.C. Southeastern Conference has made it clear unless Mississippi takes the Confederate flag off its state flag, there'll be no FCC championships taking place on any campus in Mississippi. That is essentially a divestment practice.
Suddenly, the flag debate went on a whole new level.
I keep telling people, if you want to affect America, you must deal with money one day later.
The CWA announced it is expanding its Confederate flag policy. The big dog steps in banning all championship events from being held in states where the Confederate flag is flown. Mississippi is the only state affected. From there, a cascade of businesses threatened to divest in rapid succession. First it was Sanderson Farms 15000 employees. Then Wal-Mart says it will no longer have Mississippi State flag in its store.
Wal-Mart twenty three thousand employees. Same day, the Mississippi Baptist Convention said something similar.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention, more than half a million members.
In light of our understanding of his teaching Jesus Christ, I am compelled to urge legislature to change our state. That's you a help on the phone with Lauren to review this new progress. There's a statement that I can forward you that our lieutenant governor just made. Here's the thing.
I talked to a senator today who said there are 10 votes away.
What she showed me tweets of her flag waving at BLM protests. And then we talked about all the businesses that have just put up her flag in the past few days.
Whitney Bank, which is a big presence on the coast, is putting up a of manner as soon as it gets back from the printer. And the huge Gothic fabulous thing, it's the tallest building downtown Calama Life Building in Jackson. They need a ten by fifteen flag.
So we had order it outside of the NBC headquarters. There's a flag of yours. Yeah.
Did you picture that? No. Two days to the deadline.
You had a couple of legislators who have come out on the right side of history. Very pleasure.
Chris Bell and Shonda Yates tell me that they've inched forward just a little bit.
We're hoping that the momentum will grow over the weekend. Hey, this is Chris. I'm sorry, I couldn't answer the phone.
I also tried Senator Chris McDaniel a few times. Leave a message and I'll get right back to you. The mailbox is full. Goodbye.
Momentum is building to change Mississippi State flag even as the legislative session winds down.
The House Democratic minority leaders say they are about one to two votes away from getting some movement going around, this time with team change still a few votes short and just a few days left to the deadline.
Republicans brought out the two flare ups. There's been an idea floated about adopting a second coequal flag. Keep our current flag and also have a new flag. Kind of separate but equal flags. That's not even up. That's another floor debate. It's a weird idea for me to wrap my head around.
On the eve of the deadline, it seemed like things had suddenly stalled. Suddenly, all the senators weren't returning my calls. Meanwhile, Lauren was getting attacked online. A few members of the Mississippi Black Lives Matter movement started publicly saying that the new flag should be designed by a black person and should not bear the name of a segregationist.
Well, I. I met with some folks who are with Black Lives Matter, and it was. Really helpful to realize in person, in dialogue. How much of a roadblock. The association or even just the perceived association with my grandfather was.
I mean, you have to kind of realize how hard this is to happen in Mississippi, and it's kind of absurd and crazy. But all the planets were lining and then all of a sudden. It became my last name became this huge issue, and I'm like, well, I'm getting the hell out of the way because this needs to happen. She ended up posting a statement online. Can you read it to me?
Yes. Dear friends. Mississippi will soon know all the benefits and joy that come with having a state flag that is evocative, not provocative. Working hard for six years toward that goal has been one of the best experiences of my life in a continued effort to be of service. I'll be stepping away from this endeavor as I understand the hurt and potential harm a last name can cause. But I will always continue to fight for Mississippi and her people, which I consider both a duty and a joy.
Mississippi needs and deserves a new flag. Helped make it so, Lauren. That's kind of that's heartbreaking. No, it's good. All right. Breaking this morning, Lawrence Dennis, the creator of a popular alternative to the state flag, says she's stepping away from her endeavor. Her grandfather was U.S. Senator John Stennis, who served Mississippi on Campbellsville for 21 years.
Let's come to order, please, standard related prayer today by guest minister to be introduced by the lady from Harrison, remain standing there for the play Saturday, June 27, 2020.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you, ladies.
State legislators finally meet to vote on the flag on Davis minutes before I get a series of frantic texts from Shonda Yates. She might now looks like it's not happening. It's on. Honestly, I have no idea.
Thank you, Father, for Mississippi. Session begins with a prayer. We ask you and beseech you that you would be in their hearts. That what is in their heart will transfer more to their mind. They may do the things that are pleasing to God for the good of all Mississippians and even our country. Forgive us about Sands. We pray a man. Then pledge place, appropriately enough. Everybody faced the big American flag next to it. The 1894 Mississippi state flag, the Confederate won and they pledged their allegiance maybe for the last time.
Open machine, Madam Clerk.
In the audience you can see a few black representatives are wearing masks. One has the words take it down written on his. And another has the number 846 printed on his Askham back to order after that.
Speeches arise before you. Today in this chamber, the eyes of our state, the nation and indeed the world are on this house this morning.
The tenor of the speeches reminded me of reading John and Abigail Adams letters today how they would write in this way, where they knew that we would be reading their letters hundreds of years later. History will be made here today.
I will know exactly where I was. On this day, there was that same awareness here, woke up this morning like a minute, you and I watched the news and on East Channel, they were talking about the vote on Mississippi's flag. That's on national news. Other mass from that was is there, too? It is so because of what that flag stands for yet a few minutes a debate. We want to take the joy away from them where you heard the arguments.
We as a body want to take that from them. I appreciate your position. That is not the position of this body here.
At times during these debates. I understand that. Good luck. Things got a little testy. And I'm not trying to be argumentative with me either, either. Me either.
I remember watching Senator Chris McDaniel, the American flag being burned. That really bothered me. I didn't understand why someone would do something like that. The symbol seems so pure, so innocent. So I ask my father, I said, why are they burning this flag? And he says, Sign. It's complicated.
His closing shot was a story about his dad, how his dad taught him that flags, just like the people they represent, are complicated. And we should embrace that. Not a race.
This is a tough decision. It's a very tough decision. I know it's tough. It's hard, but this is why you're elected to be in these positions after that. So now, Senator, we have a motion just as the morning roll call. The Moment of truth. About you. Morning. Causing Rákosi objective procedure now.
To be honest, there are actually two votes, one in the House, in the Senate. We're going to focus in on the Senate. That's what you're hearing, because that's the vote that really counts.
Roll call. Two separate motions. If your call, they needed a two thirds majority to suspend the rules in order to move forward. If they get that majority, it's effectively a vote to change the flag, which means they need 35 out of 52 votes.
Mr. Kirk. Barnett. Blackwell. Blood boy, Branning, Brian Butler Carter.
The clerk calls the 50 senators one by one. They do a voice vote.
Simmons of the 12th. Simmons of the 13th. Sojourner. Spa's then he reads the tally. First the yays. Voting yes or yay! Barnett Blackmond Blackwell blind boy Bryan but Carter Darbar Delano Dody England. Fraizer Harkins Hartshorn Jackson 58. Jackson Doctor 36. Then the nays. Voting no name Branning. Kaufman chads at all. Chisholm Billing Game. Healh Johnson McCaughan. McDaniel Mike. Linden Seymour. So Turner Spar Suber and Waili.
Then there is a two minute silence where it seems like there are some recounts.
Again, they need to get to 35 out of 52 votes watching this on the stream at this point, I'm thinking if there are these recounts, that probably means they don't have it. By a vote of 36 to 14, the motion passes. This president asked for a media release. She had no objection immediate release was granted. For 126 years, the Mississippi State flag had the Confederate flag on it, but no longer just watched it here. Shunda Gates, the old flag is falling.
All the hard work has paid off. Robert Johnson. People get to see Mississippi for who they really are. It was beautiful. Chris Bell, Mississippi is ready to enter the global market. Taylor, what can you say? Did not change. Ken Morgan. Oh. Oh, my gosh. Did you watch? I did. I saw it. And John Hawkins, where it all began.
I was watching it with my son, my 18 year old son, who who's headed to EUROSUR Kentucky in the fall. I'm not sure he fully understood the gravity of the moment.
John is handed to us that he might now finally move back to Mississippi and perhaps politics will be in his future. Now, as for how they got the vote, because remember, they came into the day a few votes shy.
Turns out the thing that pushed him over the edge was quite literally God.
At the very last minute, a few Republicans agreed to vote to remove the old flag. Only if the new flag had the words in God we trust on it.
You know where that came from? Well, we still live in a conservative state and part of part of what it took to get people to cross that line of voting to take the Confederate flag down is to give them some alternatives. It goes on sale to the traditionalists out there and they won't get on their flag seeing the way it all played out.
Was that bittersweet from your perspective?
I think that's a good way to put it. Yeah. Yeah. But, you know, well, we got we got the current flag down, the 1894 flag down.
And so have been celebrating that for sure a few days later.
Governor Tate Reeves, he of the black face battle, flag loving fraternity, signed the bill into law.
It is an amazing historical moment to be witnessing this. The last time the Mississippi state flag raised at the Mississippi state capital now lowered, never to be raised again.
And then all 1894 flags were officially removed from all state buildings.
But in true fashion, we have made the replacement the most complicated procedure ever.
Of course, the process now, as they do this, they now and then soon the nine member commission who will be tasked with the process of finding a flag design for the moment, Mississippi, which used to be the only state in the Union with the Confederate battle flag on it, is now the only state in the Union without a flag at all.
And I just think it's amazing that that Mississippians did something radical is radical to be a state without a flag. You know, I'm saying like that that's that that is that that that's not like this radical to be like, you know what? We don't have a fucking flag right now, so we don't have to build some shit together. This is the beginning.
This ain't the end. But right now, my God. Think about that right now. Just gonna be happy and I'll be real happy for this weekend. There's something I never thought I would see happen to my brandy. Never thought we'd see you happy, you know? So it's not the end, but it's a victory. And I think going forward. Like my utopia would be like that, Lauren. And a lot of other brilliant, thoughtful, loving people were central to the design of the new flag, like, you know.
How do we share and do right by the best of Mississippi. The best of Mississippi.
Two quick postscripts, from what we understand. Orders of the Confederate flag have apparently shot through the roof in Mississippi. And second, just this week, in the wake of the flag proceedings, we learned that 26 legislatures have tested positive for Cauvin. This episode was brought to you through a collaboration between Awesome Audio and Radiolab. It was produced reported by CIMA only with production assistance from Annie McKewon in Bethel. Humpday thanks also to kiss a layman, author of Heavy, a great memoir.
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