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Senator Calls For Return of Old Mississippi Flag: ‘Our People Died Under That Flag’

Sen. Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, speaks during debate, overlaying the Mississippi flag of 1894
Mississippi Sen. Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, said on June 3, 2023, that the Mississippi Legislature should not have changed the Confederate-themed 1894 state flag, saying “a lot of our people fought and died under that flag.” AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Almost three years after both houses of the Mississippi Legislature overwhelmingly voted to retire the old Confederate-themed state flag, a state senator from Union County is calling for its return.

“That flag, a lot of our people fought and died under that flag,” Sen. Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, said during a political speech at the Belmont Political Rally in Tishomingo County on June 3. A reader shared a link to a video of her speech with the Mississippi Free Press.

The state did not adopt the flag—which featured three red, white and blue bars with a Confederate cross in the upper left-hand corner—until 1894, almost three decades after the end of the Civil War and several years after the end of Reconstruction. White supremacist lawmakers adopted the Confederate-themed flag in place of a prior magnolia flag as they worked to lock Black Mississippians out of politics with a slew of Jim Crow laws.

Following decades of efforts by Black lawmakers and Black activists, the Mississippi Legislature’s white Republican leaders finally agreed to vote on legislation to change the state flag on June 28, 2020. Chism was just one of 14 senators, all Republicans, who voted against retiring the old flag out of the 52-member body.

At the time, the state senator falsely claimed that an “African American Confederate soldier” had designed the flag. “I can only imagine how proud he was that his art, his flag design was chosen to represent our State and now we want to strip him of his pride, his hard work. I’m sure he put a lot of thought into this design,” Chism wrote in a June 2020 Facebook post.

In fact, a white supremacist lawmaker, Sen. Edward N. Scudder of Issaquena County, designed the 1894 flag. In a 1924 speech to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, his daughter Fayssoux Scudder Corneil explained his motives for designing the flag: “My father loved the memory of the valor and courage of those brave men who wore the gray … and has always taken keen interest in the reunions where he could meet and mingle with those of the Lost Cause. He told me that it was a simple matter for him to design the flag because he wanted to perpetuate in a legal and lasting way that dear battle flag under which so many of our people had so gloriously fought.”

Mississippi entered the Civil War in an effort to protect the institution of slavery, as the the state’s Declaration of Secession explains. Chism’s county, Union County, was formed in 1870—the same year Mississippi was readmitted to the Union.

The 2020 flag legislation, which Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law despite his prior opposition to changing the state flag legislatively, created a commission that designed a new state flag with a Magnolia at its center. Reuben Anderson, who became the first Black Mississippi Supreme Court justice in 1985, led the commission. Voters overwhelmingly approved the new design by a 73-27 vote in November 2020—19 years after an earlier referendum to change the flag failed by a 64-36 vote. Chism’s county voted 62-38 to change the state flag in 2020.

The day after a group of white supremacists went on a deadly rampage in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, students at the University of Southern Mississippi who supported the Black Lives Matter movement interrupted a demonstration supporting the 1894 Mississippi state flag. Photo by Ashton Pittman.

Soon after the 2020 vote, though, a group of state residents who wanted to keep the old state flag began collecting signatures to put the issue back on the ballot and give residents the option to re-adopt the old flag. Chism, along with other political leaders like Mississippi Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, backed the campaign. That effort soon ended, along with ballot-initiative efforts to expand Medicaid and adopt early voting, when the Mississippi Supreme Court nullified the state’s ballot initiative system in May 2021. In the two legislative sessions since, multiple attempts to adopt a new ballot initiative system have failed.

In her speech on June 3, Chism blamed Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, for the fact that the State still has not restored its ballot-initiative process. The New Albany senator endorsed McDaniel, who is challenging the incumbent lieutenant governor in the Aug. 8 Republican primary. Lieutenant governors also serve as president of the Mississippi Senate, giving them enormous power over which legislation gets a vote.

“The Senate leadership, Delbert Hosemann, refused to pass the House (ballot initiative restoration) bill because he honestly doesn’t want the people to be successful using the ballot initiative which was what we tried to use to save our flag,” Chism said. “Only a Democrat at heart would entertain the thought of pulling such a stunt that Delbert Hosemann had control of.”

In March, before the legislative session ended, Hosemann publicly said he was “hopeful” the House and Senate could reach an agreement on restoring the ballot-initiative system before the end of the session; that did not come to pass, however, as the two chambers wrangled over the specifics.

During her June 3 speech, Chism also criticized Hosemann for urging senators to vote to retire the old state flag in 2020.

“Let’s not forget the fact that Delbert Hosemann worked really hard and succeeded in taking away your right to vote on the 1894 state flag,” the senator said. “He never gave you the opportunity to vote as he promised. His very words to me, ‘Senator, they will forget that flag vote in four years.’ I beg to differ. … I’m appalled at the audacity and arrogance of Delbert Hosemann to disregard your vote in 2001 overwhelmingly to keep the 1894 state flag. It is not just about the flag. It is about the fact that leadership took away your voice, your vote.”

Hosemann explained his support for changing the flag legislatively, rather than by referendum, in a June 24, 2020, statement.

“What is compelling to me is the future of our children and grandchildren. They will learn together, they will work together and they will worship together. … I am open to bringing all citizens together to determine a banner for our future,” he said at the time. “Some distrust the will of the citizens and fear the public dialogue which comes with a ballot. I am not one of those people. Changes in our hearts and minds arise from conversations, and in our republic by the finality of the ballot box. However, the Legislature in 1894 selected the current flag and the Legislature should address it today. Failing to do so only harms us and postpones the inevitable.”

Both chambers passed the bill to change the state flag four days later on June 28, 2020.

The party primaries for all statewide offices and legislative races are on Aug. 8, 2023. Kathy Chism is running unopposed in the primary and in the Nov. 7, 2023, general election.

For other stories about the Mississippi flag, anti-CRT and DEI efforts and much more, visit the MFP’s Race & Racism archive.

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