The Banner That Won’t Stay Furled

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The Banner That Won’t Stay Furled

by John Shelton Reed
Southern Cultures, Vol. 8, No. 1: Spring 2002

"First of all, what is it with Mississippi?"

Furl that Banner, for ’tis weary;
Round its staff ’tis drooping dreary;
Furl it, fold it, it is best:
For there’s not a man to wave it,
And there’s not a sword to save it,
And there is not one left to lave it
In the blood which heroes gave it;
And its foes now scorn and brave it;
Furl it, hide it–let it rest.

–Father Abram Ryan, “The Conquered Banner”

In April of 2001, 750,000 Mississippians went to the polls to decide whether to change their state flag. The old flag, adopted in 1894, prominently incorporates the Confederate battle flag, and a committee set up by the governor had proposed to replace it with a pattern of twenty stars on a blue field. The stars were apparently to represent the thirteen original colonies, the six nations and Indian tribes associated with the state, and the state of Mississippi itself, although it was also said that they represent Mississippi’s status as the twentieth state. The important point was that they were not the Confederate flag.