My grandfather romanticized the lost cause. My father fled the state.
Corrections & clarifications: This column has been updated to remove a quote making an assertion that Gov. Phil Bryant said in February was false.
I’m from Mississippi. Specifically Newton, north of Soso, west of Chunky. When I was growing up, my grandfather talked about “the war” as though it happened yesterday. He often took me to the Mount Zion Cemetery, where a marker honors two boys in our family. When their father went to war and they were supposed to take care of their mother, these brothers joined the cavalry.
“Yankees killed them at the Battle of Murfreesboro,” my grandfather told me, tearing up.
“They should’ve stayed with their mama,” I snapped. Even as a kid, I was critical of my grandfather romanticizing the lost cause. Even then, I knew “the war” was mostly about slavery.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court asked our governor, Phil Bryant, to defend our state flag — in use since 1894 and the last in the nation with a Confederate battle emblem. The justices gave him and his lawyers until Sept. 28 to respond to a 2016 lawsuit claiming the state flag is an unconstitutional relic of slavery that violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for all citizens.
For the past year and a half, I’ve seen rallies, violence, hate and emotional pain up close. People splinter over this “flag issue” as they force themselves to face their own past.
My grandfather hoarded Mississippi’s past, and even if it wasn’t his, he wanted to make it his. He made up heroic Civil War stories for his relatives, never mind that most of them didn’t fight. He bought replicas of a Confederate uniform and a Confederate flag, stored them in my father’s old bedroom, wearing the jacket and waving the flag once a year, at the end of Christmas supper.
My father graduated from the University of Mississippi. In 1962, on the night before the riot protesting James Meredith’s entry to the university, segregationist Gov. Ross Barnett gave his famous speech at a football game in Jackson. My parents were there. At halftime, Confederate flag-waving fans unveiled a gigantic Confederate flag on the field. Barnett went to the 50-yard line and took the microphone: “I love Mississippi! I love her people,…