MISSISSIPPI, USA — For the first time in 126 years, the Mississippi flag will no longer have the Confederate emblem on it.
State Rep. Robert Johnson III, (D)-Adams, said this flag was a constant reminder of the prejudice inflicted on African Americans in Mississippi.
"It was painful," Johnson said.
Johnson was born in Natchez, Mississippi, during the Civil Rights Movement. He said he had family and friends harmed and killed by Klu Klux Klan members.
"This whole thing of creating an atmosphere of fear in the community was something that we lived with," Johnson said.
Seeing the Confederate flag is a reminder of dark moments of intimidation he experienced beginning at an early age.
"I remember being five years old going to my first Christmas parade," Johnson said. "I wanted to see Santa Claus and as soon as Santa Claus passed by there were 15 or 16 Klu Klux Klansmen with hoods on horses and Confederate flags waving."
Dr. Stephanie Rolph, a Mississippi historian at Millsaps College, explained in 1894 when the Confederate emblem was put on the flag, Mississippi was struggling financially during the Reconstruction after the Civil War.
"One of the key sets of constituents that Democrats in the state had to capture were those aging Confederate veterans who were beginning to feel like their sacrifice and their service was going to be lost to history," Rolph said.
The state didn't have money to increase pensions for Confederate veterans and the Democrats didn't want to lose votes to the Populists.
"Essentially what they get is a symbolic gesture from the state government of including that Confederate battle flag in the state flag," Rolph said.
She said Southern states relied on slave labor to keep their economy running efficiently and they couldn't imagine an economy without it.
"The Civil War was absolutely and unequivocally fought in order to settle the question about slavery," Rolph said.
Rolph said the Confederate emblem on the flag signified a reassertion of white supremacy after the Reconstruction ended, which was consequently used as a tactic to suppress African American voters. Today, Mississippi has the highest percentage of African Americans compared to any other state.
"If we have a symbol in our flag that has been blatantly used to terrorize, intimidate, and to strip away liberties, to hold people in slavery then we are representing only a minority of our citizens," Rolph said.
Johnson said this isn't just about taking down a flag, but a multi-generational journey in finding equity and equality for all Mississippians.
"None of this lasts forever," Johnson said. "We’re going to get through this and we’re going to get over it. Just be faithful and that’s what I did and it had worn itself out."
Rolph hopes the conversations about Mississippi's history continue, so we can keep learning and grow from it.
"This is about re-educating ourselves about the true history of our state and our nation and the ways in which white supremacy has systematically enacted violence, terror, discrimination and disparity for a significant part of our population," Rolph said.