The Mississippi Heritage Amendment: An Independent Opinion

A group is collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment that asks the following question:  Should the Constitution be amended to restrict or define Mississippi’s heritage, religion, official language, symbols, universities, and state boundaries?

Sounds innocuous, right? But try reading the whole thing. You’ll see how insidious and silly it is all at the same time. You hate to take it seriously, but some provisions are very carefully worded so as to woo voters into thinking they’re voting for an amendment that actually accomplishes something. Reporting by media outlets thus far has been both inaccurate and incomplete, so having been given plenty of space by the editor of this blog, I’m going to outline the entire initiative and try to suss out what it means to do.

Introductory paragraph: “Upon the passage of the Heritage Initiative, the Constitution of the State of Mississippi shall be amended to include and incorporate all the following twelve provisions.” Hear that? The following would be enshrined in the state constitution if this ballot initiative passes. Here’s what you’re voting on:

Number One: “The State of Mississippi hereby acknowledges the fact of her identity as a principally Christian and quintessentially Southern state, in terms of the majority of her population, character, culture, history, and heritage, from 1817 to the present; accordingly, the Holy Bible is acknowledged as a foremost source of her founding principles, inspiration, and virtues; and accordingly prayer is acknowledged as a respected, meaningful, and valuable custom of her citizens. The acknowledgements hereby secured shall not be construed to transgress either the national or the state Constitution’s Bill of Rights.”

I don’t see how it can be construed as naming “an official state religion” as one media outlet put it. However, it does leave out other religious groups important to our state’s history and culture. Nice job of showing your ignorance, guys. But what practical effect does it have? None that I can see.

Number Two: “English shall be the official language of the State of Mississippi. All governmental or public non-emergency or non-judicial services, functions or communications in Mississippi shall be in the English language only, except for specific foreign language instruction in the public schools, and except for the option of Latin or French for jurisprudence, medicine, heraldry, and other traditional uses.”

I just love the exceptions here. They give the illusion that this part of the bill is well-reasoned and thought-out. To be fair, laws do exist on the books that say that financial records have to be kept in English for tax purposes. But this amendment seems to be aimed at killing English-as-Second-Language language instruction in our schools and disallowing the printing of government forms in other languages besides English. And it doesn’t say a thing about American Sign Language. Is that banned by this amendment? Inquiring minds and all that.

Number Three: “The state flag of Mississippi shall be the state flag adopted in 1894, which has been in continuous use since 1894, and which was confirmed by statewide vote in 2001. The state flag of Mississippi shall be displayed in front of all public buildings, including but not limited to all state, county, and municipal buildings and any school receiving state funding. Wherever the national flag is displayed on public land or in public buildings, a state flag of equal size shall also be displayed. In Mississippi public schools and other public institutions, whenever the pledge of allegiance to the national flag is recited, the state flag salute shall be recited immediately thereafter. The state flag salute shall be: “I salute the flag of Mississippi and the sovereign state for which it stands with pride in her history and achievements and with confidence in her future under the guidance of Almighty God.”

This provision does not establish a “Confederate pledge of allegiance” as reported by one media outlet. It does render a state flag salute that is just as offensive to non-Christians as the American flag’s current pledge of allegiance. Way to win votes, fellows.

Number Four: “Mississippi’s official and sole state nickname shall be “The Magnolia State”. Mississippi’s official and sole state motto shall be “Virtute et Armis”; said state motto shall appear below the eagle on the state’s coat-of-arms. Mississippi’s official and sole state song shall be “Dixie”. Whenever the national anthem is played in a public venue or at a public event in Mississippi, either “Dixie” or “Go, Mississippi” shall be played immediately thereafter.”

So not only does Ole Miss get to play “Dixie” at football games and other sporting events again, so does State, Delta State, Valley, Alcorn, JSU, Southern, and all other universities and schools. Not only that, it gets played at military events, dance recitals, public meetings, etc. etc. ad nauseum. The amendment nonsensically says that “Dixie” is the only state song, but “Go, Mississippi”, the current state song, can be substituted for it. If you’re going to offend, guys, at least be consistent about it.

Number Five: “ All newly issued and all replacement Mississippi car tags, driver licenses, identification cards, welcome signs, and historical markers shall include: an image of the state flag of Mississippi, an image of the Magnolia flower, and the words “Mississippi” and “The Magnolia State” in elegant font.”

Problem: does this amendment vacate all the laws passed by the legislature establishing various license tags for veterans groups, advocacy groups, schools, etc? I admit I get chapped at seeing a Mississippi plate with “Roll Tide” across the bottom, but do we really need a state amendment for that? And what does “in elegant font” mean? I guess no Comic Sans for these people. Here’s where it gets fun.

Number Six: “The official and sole mascot of the University of Mississippi shall be “Colonel Reb”, whose appearance shall be an accurate reflection of Colonel Reb’s definitive appearance on the cover of the 1947 University of Mississippi yearbook (the 1947 Ole Miss). University of Mississippi teams shall be the “Rebels”. The official and sole alternate title of the University of Mississippi shall be “Ole Miss”; no other alternate titles, abbreviations, or bynames of the University of Mississippi shall be used in any official capacity. The University of Mississippi traditions of playing “Dixie” and of displaying hand-held flags of any size, with or without flag sticks, at athletic events or in athletic venues shall not be infringed. The annual Ole Miss homecoming titles shall be “Colonel Reb” and “Miss Ole Miss”. One year after the Heritage Initiative’s passage, a life-sized, classical, and heroic statue of University Greys soldier Jeremiah Gage shall be erected on the edge of University Circle, positioned centrally in front of the Lyceum; said statue shall stand on a base five feet high with a metal plaque affixed listing the name, rank, and hometown of each University Greys soldier; the funding thereof shall be from non-public sources.”

NOW we’re getting to the important stuff—university mascots and school traditions. Curiously enough, the name “Rebels” isn’t mentioned in here.  Don’t miss that new statue to be erected on the Ole Miss campus, with non-public funding, of course. Really? Don’t you people have anything serious in this state to worry about? It gets better. They’re not only going to interfere with Ole Miss’ way of doing business, they’re going to do it at Mississippi State and Southern, too.

Number Seven: “The official and sole mascot of Mississippi State University shall be “Bully”, who shall be an English Bulldog. Mississippi State University teams shall be the “Bulldogs”. The Mississippi State University traditions of carrying and ringing hand-held Cowbells, of prominently featuring Bully in the form of a live canine Bulldog at athletic events or in athletic venues, and of honoring the founding college president, Stephen Dill Lee, shall not be infringed.”

Take that, NCAA haters of cowbells! Our constitution will trump your rules any and every day! Don’t forget the reference to Stephen D. Lee. If you don’t recognize him, don’t worry. I’m sure you can guess whose cousin he is.

Number Eight: “The official and sole mascot of the University of Southern Mississippi shall be “Seymour d’Campus”, who shall be a “Golden Eagle”. University of Southern Mississippi teams shall be the “Southerners”. The University of Southern Mississippi traditions of celebrating Mardi Gras and of prominently featuring a live horse named “Son of Dixie” shall not be infringed.”

Did you even know about these traditions? I didn’t. How far back with revisionist history are we going to go, anyway? But don’t the rest of you institutions of higher learning feel left out. The authors of this amendment have a provision for you, too:

Number Nine: “Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi University for Women, and Mississippi Valley State University shall not be required to consolidate or merge, and they shall be permitted to remain distinct public institutions of higher learning.”

Pandering, much? How many extra votes do you think you’ll get with this one? If people even get around to reading it after digesting the other provisions.

Number Ten: “The month of April shall be ‘Confederate Heritage Month’ in the State of Mississippi, annually proclaimed by the Governor and declared by the Secretary of State. Annually throughout the month of April, all primary and secondary public schools in the state shall acknowledge ‘Confederate Heritage Month’ and include within the curriculum appropriate information about Mississippi’s Confederate history, heritage, achievements, and prominent people, including Mississippi’s African American and Native American veterans. The last Monday in April shall be ‘Confederate Memorial Day’, an annual state holiday; all state, county, and municipal non-emergency departments and buildings, including but not limited to public schools, universities, courts, and offices, shall be closed in observance thereof. Non-emergency public employees within any department or building closed on Confederate Memorial Day shall have a non-compensated holiday on this day, unless the State Legislature voluntarily allocates compensation to said public employees for this holiday. The right to acknowledge, observe, and celebrate ‘Dixie Week’ throughout the seven days preceding Confederate Memorial Day shall not be infringed.”

Do they not study the Civil War in school anymore? Isn’t that enough? Why do we need a dedicated month for this information? The Constitution is for more important matters than what state holidays are celebrated. And what on earth is “Dixie Week”? How does one celebrate it? One of many unanswered questions in this bill.

Number Eleven: “In honor of the Mississippians who served under this military flag, the Confederate Battle Flag, measuring at minimum four feet by four feet, shall be permanently displayed on a flag-pole directly behind and above the monument to Confederate women on the state capitol’s exterior grounds. The right to place and display flags at veterans’ graves shall not be infringed. Within Mississippi, all publicly owned, publicly held, or publicly managed Confederate or Confederate-themed items, including but not limited to monuments, statues, works of art, relics, markers, signs, names, titles, structures, roads, parks, graves, and cemeteries shall be preserved and maintained by the state government, which may delegate applicable duties to the respective counties or municipalities for this purpose; for all cases in which said items were renamed, the more historical name shall take precedence and be reestablished in full.”

And how does one determine the “more historical name?” Another unanswered question. (Author’s note: I know the answers to most of these questions. I’m just being silly.)

And finally, Number Twelve: “The borders and boundaries of the State of Mississippi are hereby restored; the repealing of Article 2, Section 3, of the Mississippi Constitution, is hereby nullified; and said Article 2, Section 3, shall be reinstated and reactivated, in its entire pre-1990 wording. The jurisdiction and laws of the State of Mississippi, and the rights and liberties of her citizens, shall exist within her borders and boundaries. The borders and boundaries of the State of Mississippi are hereby restored; the repealing of Article 2, Section 3, of the Mississippi Constitution, is hereby nullified; and said Article 2, Section 3, shall be reinstated and reactivated, in its entire pre-1990 wording. The jurisdiction and laws of the State of Mississippi, and the rights and liberties of her citizens, shall exist within her borders and boundaries.”

I researched this idea of pre-1990 borders and came up with precisely zilch. Does this mean New Orleans belongs in Mississippi now? Or does Mobile? Or does Memphis? Anyone out in internet land is free to comment and enlighten me. But obviously it’s of some importance to these people and their cause.

But people can be reassured of some sanity—according to the “revenue statement”, “Implementation of the Heritage Initiative would not require a net increase in government expenditures beyond an estimated maximum of $250,000 per year (less than 0.005 percent of the state’s current fiscal year budget), which the State Legislature may apportion from the state’s General Fund and/or Special Fund. Most of the Heritage Initiative’s provisions would not require any additional government expenditures or allocations of revenue; for the provisions that involve revenue, the State Legislature may reasonably apply the least costly means to carry out the provisions of this initiative.”
Isn’t that good to know? Only a quarter-million dollars of your hard-earned tax money should go to implementing these ideas. Isn’t that comforting?

But what is their cause for which they need $250,000 of public money? It seems to me all this initiative is good for is slapping 21st-century American citizens in the face with 19th-century racial politics, pure and simple. I have a mission with this article—it’s to make any and all public figures who associate themselves with this initiative politically radioactive. These ideas do not belong in the same room with those of adults. These people need to go sit in the time-out corner and think about what they’ve done. All they need are somewhere around 107,000 signatures to put this amendment on the ballot. Make sure yours isn’t one of them. Educate your neighbors. Ridicule the supporters. And tell them to grow the *&^% up.

(Julie Whitehead is a political observer, writer and teacher living in Brandon, Mississippi.)

5 Replies to “The Mississippi Heritage Amendment: An Independent Opinion”

  1. Uh, the “Rebels” are definitely mentioned in that part of the amendment as the “Official name for the football team” and Stephen Dill Lee was not Robert E. Lee’s brother. He was a cousin. Some of your other points are well taken (especially the bit about USM traditions; note the football team was originally the “Yellow Jackets” but was changed to the “Southerners” in the early 1950’s at the same time the Mascot was “Old Nate” who rode a horse “Son of Dixie” [yes the “Nate” is Nathan Bedford Forest], also how can you have a football team named the “Southerners” with an official mascot for it being a Golden Eagle, and where in the heck did “Seymour d’Campus come from, I graduated in 76/77 and “Nugget” was the ONLY mascot!)
    Also the bit about the state boundaries is right on, but in the main you fail to understand what is being attempted here.

  2. The only part of this that makes sense to me is the stipulation that HBC’s and MUW not be made to merge, something that was attempted several years ago and would’ve undermined the history and missions of those institutions.

  3. That’s the scary thing about the whole amendment, Diana–somebody is going to hear that and vote for it on that basis alone. That’s why it was put there, I believe–not out of a concern for those institutions.

  4. Nothing better displays to everyone the willful ignorance and backwardness of so many white Mississippians than their continued revisionist efforts to remake the symbols and lore of the Confederacy into harmless regional and college identity symbols rather than the symbols of slavery and racism that they have always been. In the Mississippi 1861 Declaration of the Immediate Causes [of the accompanying Ordinance of Secession], the very first cause listed was, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.” Yes, the Confederate Battle Flag and all references to “rebells” are just symbols. But they are powerful symbols; and most people on both sides of this issue know exactly what they stand for, just as with the symbols of Nazism. Germans know those are symbols of a particular discredited and defeated regime in a limited period of history, and they do not represent all Germans at that time, much less anytime since then. When will the majority of white Mississippians break out of their delusional little nostalgia bubble and progress to the same obvious understanding of their offensive historical symbols?

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