Posted on April 24, 2024

Mississippi Has Heroes Who Fought for Democracy. Why Is It Marking Confederate Heritage Month?

Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2024

American democracy is far younger than is often supposed. It is younger than the current president, younger than the man most likely to challenge him in November and younger than most United States senators.

True democracy, in which everyone born or naturalized in the U.S. can vote to elect their leaders and representatives, did not immediately follow independence, the Civil War or the women’s suffrage movement. The right to vote was on the books yet out of reach for millions of Americans until at least 1964, when it emerged amid a trio of crucial decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, a hard-fought Civil Rights Act, and the courage of heroes and martyrs registering Black voters in Mississippi in what was known as Freedom Summer.

Mississippi was the great American battleground of freedom and democracy in the 20th century, and it remains central in the struggle to define the meanings of those terms. Mississippians to their credit have created museums and monuments to their forebears who worked to end the Jim Crow laws that imposed racial segregation and restricted Black voting power.

It is the state where Emmett Till was lynched for supposedly offending a white woman, Medgar Evers was assassinated for trying to end segregation, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered for trying to register Black voters, James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi and later was shot during a solo “March Against Fear.” (Meredith survived and continued his work. He is now 90.)

And it’s where the governor this year — and almost every year for the last three decades — designated April as Confederate Heritage Month.

Mississippi does indeed have a heritage worthy of celebration. But it’s not the heritage of secession, which was a straightforward effort to promote slavery, as set forth in the state’s declaration of independence from the union. Protecting the practice of slavery was to Confederate Mississippi a defense of Western values.


Better to honor Mississippians such as Fannie Lou Hamer, who fought to get the Democratic Party to seat a delegation at the 1964 convention that did not exclude the state’s large Black population.