Gov. Tate Reeves’ proclamation of Confederate Heritage Month made headlines last week, for good reason. Surprisingly, this has actually been a running tradition among governors for the past 30 years. For about 25 of those years, the practice flew under the radar and enjoyed a less contested social climate. When it was uncovered in 2016 that Gov. Phil Bryant had quietly declared April as Confederate Heritage Month, the floodgates broke loose.
Tate Reeves’ time in office has been controversial, to say the least. To be fair, he assumed office right before the outbreak of a pandemic and since has had to make some really difficult decisions. Changing the flag was a decision that shouldn’t have been so hard, but was made out to be. An emblem of prejudice stamped on the flag that represents our state? How about changing that to something a little more progressive and rational? When the state legislature voted to change the flag, Reeves promptly signed the bill. Despite this, he ran on a platform promising to preserve the history of the state, and was wishy-washy on his stance for years prior.
The summer of 2020 was contentious and will be remembered by history for many different reasons. The Black Lives Matter movement touched corners of the country nobody could have predicted. People were hurt, and there was plenty of conversation regarding the institutions that have tolerated, encouraged and promoted a multi-generational attack. Racist subtleties were no longer so subtle. Whether or not Gov. Reeves took this into account, he finally authorized the changing of the state flag that summer. After signing the bill, he was vocal in his uncertainty regarding the impact such a change would hold.
Since changing the flag, it seems like Reeves has done everything to please his base, notably his support of the critical race theory ban in schools. Reeves’ was a vocal proponent of the bill; he released a three-minute video explaining why he felt it was necessary. .
Declaring April as Confederate Heritage Month directly contradicts the ban, and shows a willingness to favor one history over another; It’s obvious pandering. Confederate Heritage Month unnecessarily spites Black History Month.
Ever since I was little, I’ve heard full-grown adults question the purpose of Black History Month. They never said too much, given that I was a Black boy. I retroactively listen to those conversations between two white adults and distinctly remember them questioning the lack of a “white” history month. Going through Mississippi’s public school curriculum for 13 years, I can safely say that every month was white history month. Strangely, my Mississippi studies course barely touched on topics that explore and explain the Black experience in Mississippi. Some may argue that’s not the purpose of the class. I disagree; to study Mississippi, you have to understand the dynamic between race and class the state is built upon.
Legislation banning critical race theory addressed a “problem” that didn’t really exist in the classroom. If it did exist, it was sparse and with good intent, contrary to what some would lead you to believe. Any public school that teaches critical race theory is at risk of losing funding. Interestingly, the bill is somewhat vague in composition and does not tightly define critical race theory. This could be good or bad depending on interpretation. Hopefully, there are teachers and professors who will essentially break the law and commit the heinous crime of contextualizing history.
Confederate Heritage Month contributes to the romanticization of the Civil War, and the “Lost Cause” sentiment. Yes, every veteran that has fought in war deserves to be commemorated, but they have already been honored all across the state. Statue removals have been a hot topic, with some suggesting it’s the erasing of history. I guess Confederate Heritage Month will serve to preserve that history. I hope it never becomes popular, though. I can only imagine a Confederate history parade…maybe I shouldn’t give them ideas.
The banning of critical race theory and the declaration of Confederate Heritage Month in the first half of 2022 are just two stones on Reeves’ infinity gauntlet of ignorance. What’s next? Ultimately, this is a step in the wrong direction.