Missing the point about Mississippi
Letter to the Editor
As a life-long resident of Mississippi and a Notre Dame senior, I find the recent column from Jim Hennigan on Monday, "The Confederate Flag Should Not Fly," offensive.
It is not his argument that troubles me, as I am inclined to agree with his statements about not flying the Confederate Flag over the South Carolina State Capital. Rather, I find it disheartening that he can make a claim about the belittlement of a group of American citizens and the wrongs committed against that population while at the same time making a subliminally bigoted statement about another group of the American population. It is also a worthy note that Hennigan's presentation of the historical facts regarding the Confederate Flag is not completely truthful.
To begin, let me give a more accurate account of the Confederate Flag. Though it is true that the flag was never the official flag of the Confederacy and that it was only one of the many battle flags flown, there is a little more to its history. During the first Civil War battle at Manassas, it was discovered that the Confederate Flag was indistinguishable from that of the Union Army. As a result, several high-ranked Confederate Army officials designed a new battle flag and submitted it to the Confederate government for approval. The flag was never approved because the government was more concerned with making critical political and strategic decisions in the middle of the Civil War. The "many" other flags Hennigan refers to were two modifications of the most popular version of the Confederate Battle Flag in which the original design was used as the canton corner. I do not believe this discredits Mr. Hennigan's argument in any way, but the facts of an argument should be presented in the most truthful way.
Why then, does Mr. Hennigan's column dishearten me? The simple reason is the last sentence. He encourages the "many people of South Carolina" to continue in their struggle for equality and morality by "sighing our standard refrain in times like these: `Thank God for Mississippi!" I hope this statement disturbs the good people of South Carolina and Notre Dame as much as it does me.
It is hard to believe that Mr. Hennigan thinks it appropriate to perpetuate an incorrect stereotype of a group of American citizens while at the same time arguing for the abolishment of a symbol that perpetuates a stereotype of another group of American citizens.
Let me clarify. I am not disagreeing with a need for a more sensitive display of Southern heritage or pride. I am saying that Mr. Hennigan needs to take some time to reflect upon his own beliefs before chastising others. I sincerely hope that every Notre Dame student believes it is important to create an environment of respect for all people. I also hope every Notre Dame student believes this can be accomplished without making ignorant and asinine statements about certain other groups of people in the process.
Another interesting point of the column from Mr. Hennigan is the disclaimer he added at its conclusion: "Jim Hennigan, Class of 1994, usually practices commercial and international law, but he's currently practicing how to extinguish burning crosses in his front yard in the event certain of his neighbors see this or, worse, if someone reads this to a Mississippian." I wonder if I am to infer from this statement that Mr. Hennigan's column would infuriate me. Or rather, am I to infer that I, along with other Mississippians, am incapable of reading this and need someone to read it for me?
In conclusion, I would like to ask Mr. Hennigan what he expected the readers of his column to learn? If it was that South Carolina should remove the Confederate Battle Flag from above his state's capital (a noble cause), the message was clouded. It was clouded with his own ignorant and bigoted statements about Mississippi and the people that call Mississippi home. I am proud to say that I am from Mississippi. I am also very proud of the steps the people of my state have taken since the 1960s to rectify the injustices done to the African-American citizens who rightfully call Mississippi home also. I am not trying to make the claim that Mississippi has completely washed itself of the attitudes that plagued our image for decades, but we are trying. Mississippi learned from the rest of the country how to work toward a better society, a society that enables all its citizens to take advantage of the true opportunities our country can provide.
I guess, if nothing more, I hope those of you from South Carolina and the rest of the country can learn a little bit from those of us in Mississippi.
St. Ed's Hall
January 31, 2000
All Viewpoint Stories for Wednesday, February 2, 2000