By Jennifer Riley-Collins, ACLU of MS Executive Director
Webster’s Dictionary defines heritage as “the traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation.” A key part of the definition is that it indicates certain things are a part of the history. Studying history has value if the student is truly intent on learning from it.
As a military officer, I know the benefits our nation has gleaned from a review of past actions. We analyze actions and decide whether to either sustain what works or outline action plans for those areas where improvement is needed, and then we move forward. Clinging to history, particularly in editorialized and romanticized reflection, has no benefit. The cost is stagnation and an increased risk of repeating the same errors. A cost benefit analysis reveals that Mississippi simply cannot continue to afford the risks being taken by its leadership of continuing to remain a closed society.
As I have pondered the notions of Confederate heritage, Mississippi’s dogmatic stance relative to the Confederate emblem in our state flag as measured against the backdrop of structural and institutional racism in our state, I am dismayed. My distress stems from the fact our state government has chosen divisiveness over inclusion, to be offensive rather than respectful, and to remain unpleasant instead of welcoming and accepting. These are mindsets that manifest in our state always being last.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, while not a partner in the litigation recently filed before the court, applauds attorney Carlos Moore for taking up the fight. The ACLU of Mississippi believes that clinging to emblems and ideologies of the Confederacy are not reflective of the diversity of our state and are more than “unpleasant and complicated.” In fact, they are not complicated at all. Instead, they are simple-minded indicators of racial hatred that signify a defiance against equality and a refusal to fairly administer justice with no regard to the harm inflicted on the citizens of this state or the state’s economy.
Individuals maintain a right to express themselves individually and on their private property. Government speech, however, does not have the same right. It is time Mississippi’s government embraces the fact that Confederate emblems are not appropriate for today’s government to display nor is a history that fought to treat fellow human beings a chattel one we should embrace. As a soldier, I salute all who have fallen on battlefields, but our state capital and our classrooms should not perpetuate reenactment of that which is reprehensible.
As we reflect on history, let us be reminded as stated by Thomas Jefferson that “rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”
The ACLU of Mississippi will not be deterred in its mission to work tirelessly in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the Constitution’s promise of liberty for everyone. We will make Mississippi better.
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