PLUNKETT: Meeting Ignorance With Ignorance Isn’t A Virtue

By Keith Plunkett | May 23rd, 2017 at 4:05 pm

BY: Keith Plunkett / Managing Editor

Keith Plunkett is the Policy and Communications Director for the United Conservatives Fund, and the Founder and Publisher of

Filed Under: Contributor, Culture, David Baria, Feature Stories, History, Inspirational, Keith Plunkett, Leadership, Legislature, Liberty, Mississippi, Mississippi PEP, Mississippi State House, Opinion, Politics, Progressivism, Race, Social Justice, State Flag, Virtue

“We should all keep studying history and working to best serve one another in the present where God has planted us. If we do that then the future will take care of itself. That is something that takes honest dialogue not the vogue in these socially and politically volatile times.”

State Rep. Karl Oliver ignited a firestorm over the weekend with a comment on social media about protecting historical monuments. The statement was aimed at those who are working to bring down monuments in New Orleans, a city that may be the most diverse and unique in the entire country, certainly in the Southeast U.S.

Oliver posted the following:

“The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, “leadership” of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED! Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our State.”

My first read of Oliver’s words had me nodding my head in agreement until I got to his use of all caps. When I got to the reference to “OUR HISTORY,” a voice appeared in the back of my head saying, ‘I hope he doesn’t mean to insinuate . . .”

The first, nearly subconscious, inkling regarding the term ‘OUR HISTORY’ suddenly took on the meaning that I had hoped wasn’t intended when I read the word “LYNCHED” in all caps.

To his credit, and maybe due to a little arm-twisting, Oliver issued the following apology yesterday afternoon:

“I, first and foremost, wish to extend this apology for any embarrassment I have caused to both my colleagues and fellow Mississippians. In an effort to express my passion for preserving all historical monuments, I acknowledge the word ‘lynched’ was wrong. I am very sorry. It is in no way, ever, an appropriate term. I deeply regret that I chose this word, and I do not condone the actions I referenced, nor do I believe them in my heart. I freely admit my choice of words was horribly wrong, and I humbly ask your forgiveness.”

This didn’t stop the Editorial Boards of both the Clarion Ledger and the Sun Herald, and maybe a few more by now I have yet to see, from issuing calls for his immediate resignation. It’s hard to argue against the reasons for these conclusions. Although, I don’t think it’s the place of either newspaper to put themselves above the voters in Oliver’s district. That decision should be left up to them. But, if the consensus with his voter’s is the same and he is forced to step down then it will be a result of his own “frenetic intemperance“, to use a phrase coined by John Horvat.

I recommend Mr. Horvat’s book ‘Return To Order to anyone who wants a more detailed understanding of the often misunderstood value of the connection between social conservatism and fiscal conservatism.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Bill Stone and House Democratic Caucus Chair David Baria issued the following joint statement regarding Oliver’s post Monday:

“As members of the Mississippi Legislature we wish to condemn in the strongest terms possible the remarks of one of our colleagues concerning lynching of public officials involved in the decision to remove confederate memorials in our neighbor state. The use of such inflammatory rhetoric in the context of public discourse is repugnant and does damage to the considerable advances that have been made in healing wounds caused by state-supported racism of the past. In 2017, no elected official in the State of Mississippi should be speaking in this manner regardless of any strongly held opinions concerning confederate statues.”

I absolutely agree, and I thank both of these men for not emotionally reacting and trying to gain political points from the incident.

Obviously with the practice of slavery being the key official reason why some states seceded, and the prior and subsequent public pronouncements by political leaders at the time and after basing the secession and latter causes on white supremacy, race becomes an issue to be discussed during debate of these monuments. No one should deny that fact. To do so is to reduce the seriousness of ones intention and argument.

And unlike some who just wish this conversation would go away, I tend to think that difficult public conversations are a good thing. This is one that Mississippi simply has to move through if we hope to get beyond it. We can’t ignore the wound and let it keep festering. But as I’ve stated elsewhere, we have to agree on common rules of the debate and discussion.

We have to stop allowing ambitious personal political considerations of individuals stoop to the level of using phrases and actions to fan the flames of emotion and division without challenge. We have to hold each other accountable to a higher standard, especially those who side with us politically.

As a conservative, I don’t believe that “the government line” or the “official” public proclamations are the unvarnished truth that must be accepted. I don’t trust the government to do that civic duty for me. Therefore I don’t agree with the premise that it is those statements and only those statements that define the parameters of any discussion.

It’s disingenuous for anyone to argue that we must accept the “official” and the most vile secession statements of the states as the absolute causes of the Civil War, only to turn around when it comes to these monuments and say the “official” reason for their dedication isn’t valid because it honors the qualities and character of the war dead absent any reference to slavery.

Revisionist want to transport their present day understanding back in history to pass personal judgement on individuals entire lives based on heavily edited narratives of actions and decisions. That is a standard we should not accept for anyone or any generation, past or present.

Redemption is always available to each of us through Gods Grace. Who are we as individual specks to deny that Grace to anyone?

If you agree that the monument discussion must be based in searching the hearts of men at intervals of history, and the more complex personal and emotional reasons these monuments were placed–which is what I believe an ongoing assessment of history should be–then this search for the full “unofficial” truth in everyday lives can’t suddenly be packaged up and put away. Many would like to do so because it’s not a useful device in reaching the pre-ordained conclusion a person or group wants to reach in order to “win” the political argument. A standard that changes based on political considerations isn’t a standard at all.

In other words, if the war was about slavery and only slavery because the state of Mississippi and other states used that as an official state reason for secession, then it must follow that these monuments and banners that have been officially adopted since then must be given the same deference to what the official dedication of the time says they were erected to memorialize.

However, if the erecting of monuments is a more complex issue with layers of socioeconomic, racial, traditional, familial and individual considerations supporting why certain people and groups gravitated toward differing conclusions, personal representations and violent divisions, then it also must follow that we treat the entirety of the causes of our Southern historical identity that stems from the secession and through the Civil War in that regard.

Picking and choosing what feeds interpretation based on political considerations and desired outcomes is blinding group think. It has been the primary cause behind nearly every atrocity in human history.

Searching the more complex reasons behind the hearts of men and women is a much more difficult thing to do, and a much more proper assessment of history in my mind. But if you agree with this rather than the “official” assessment then you have to agree that history is always being shaped by learning more about the perspectives, interpretations and discoveries of individuals of all walks of life. It requires constant exploration. Therefore, it can rarely ever be defined based on knowing all the facts behind such an all-encompassing event as secession and the U.S. Civil War. And the racism of the past or present cannot define the entire meaning or cause behind actions or behind symbols or monuments today as it did then. Neither can it represent the defining character of a race, region or a state.

Individual decisions based on individual circumstances form a complex tapestry of a diverse history. We in the present own that history. Whether we like it or not doesn’t make it less truthful, it still belongs to us all–all of the burdens, the tragedies, the dreams realized and the honors bestowed–the ugly and the beautiful, the good and the bad.

It’s the reason I support keeping the state flag as it is, and the reason I support leaving monuments where and how they stand. We don’t change history by editing it. We change it by living a life of honest service to one another.

Shouldn’t those who say they believe in individual liberty or individual rights allow everyone, regardless of race or any other classification, to enjoy the right to their own discovery and belief of this history? If so, my belief in the narrative I have come to understand, is no less valid than anyone else’s simply because I didn’t reach the same conclusion. Someone may argue with me, and they may make me think to the point that I change my mind, but they certainly can’t force belief on me. That is something that requires my agreement.

Ultimately this public nastiness is about control. Who gets to control the “official” truth? As a liberty-minded conservative, I say no one person or group does. We should all keep studying history and working to best serve one another in the present where God has planted us. If we do that then the future will take care of itself. That is something that takes honest dialogue not the vogue in these socially and politically volatile times.

  • Robert Porter

    Mr. Plunkett,
    I have read the discussion, and I totally agree with you. There are some things that we cannot change in our history. I too, would like to see the flag stay. I lived through the Emmett Till thing, and there was more to the story than what you know, and no, I do not condone what Milam and Bryant did to that young man. I believe, as a southerner raised in the Ms Delta, that we all have to get over what has happened in the past. I had two Great Grandfathers fight in the Civil war, and neither owned slaves that I am aware of,. They were still fighting for what they thought was right at the time.
    I feel that folks like you and me, and Mr. Smith, should stop and listen to our neighbors. Believe me I have, and most of the folks that I have heard talk are after money. I have heard about “White Privilege” so much that I no longer want to hear it. I treat people like I want to be treated, do not look down on anyone at this point in my life. I think also that the things in New Orleans should have stayed in place because they were erected by folks that knew them. Also my folks fought in the American Revolution and we are all enjoying the fruits of that fight.

  • William H Smith

    Keith, since you favor keeping the present MS State Flag with the Stars and Bars prominent in the upper left because it represents history which we ought not to deny, let me ask this: Since the Stars and Bars is associated with the War, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, denial of voting rights, and even the Klan, then should folks look at the flag and say, “Yep, that’s our history, sordid as it is. We wish all those things had never happened, but they did, and it’s our history, and we want never to forget it”? Or are citizens supposed to look at the part of the state flag and say, “I feel pride in my State, want to celebrate this history that part of the flag represents, and can stand beside any fellow Mississippian knowing we feel unified as we look with patriotism at our Flag?” Now you and I know that Black Mississippians can never feel positively toward that part of the Flag. I expect that a growing number of White Mississippians cannot either. So what is it you really are defending. Do you really want to say, “Slavery was wrong, segregation was wrong, denial of voting rights was wrong, the Klan was wrong, but these things happened, and I love to be reminded of that history when I look at my State’s flag”? I think it’s time people like you who have influence and a forum to say, “Let’s put together a commission representative of the citizens of our State and task them with coming up with a new State Flag around which we all can rally.” It would not play well with a certain segment the people who follow you, but it would be the right thing to do and be good for the whole State.

    • Jonathan E. Kihyet

      I am one for proper terms, so I apologize for the fussiness up front. The “Stars and Bars” is not on the Mississippi Flag. The The St. Andrew’s cross Confederate Battle Flag is an emblem on it.

    • Keith Plunkett

      Bill, You’re bypassing my point altogether. To a large number of Mississippians that banner doesn’t mean those things at all. It means much more. You’re doing exactly what I contend is done to reach the conclusion you want to reach by isolating the banners meaning to only those that are pre-determined. That simply isn’t history. It’s not a bunch of isolated incidents, nor is it a series of “official” government designations. That type of thinking traps all of us into pre-destined roles and as Edmund Burke said “forges our fetters”.

      We in the present day shape the meaning of our history as it unfolds. Its on a continuum. That’s the constant that is interwoven throughout the writings of Burke, Kirk and other conservative thinkers of history.

      Isolating generations in silos only serves to increase the divisive classifications of social experience. And it completely negates Gods gift of redemption. This does exactly that which you claim to abhor.

      • William H Smith

        Keith I am not bypassing your point. I am drawing out the implications of your point. I stand by what I wrote. But for the fun of it, on the basis of your reply, let me ask a few more questions: Just what do you think Mississippians think of, feel when they see the Battle Flag in the corner? Would there by any facts you would add to the facts of the undeniable associations and uses of the Flag? What do you think the original significance of the inclusion of the Battle Flag in the MS State Flag? Are there any past facts of history or are their only evolving meanings? Where are we on continuum of development of the meaning of that portion of the flag? Do you think the Flag will be redeemed for MS’s Black citizens? Will it eventually have a positive meaning for them?

        • Keith Plunkett

          I’ll take them in order one at at time and answer as simply as I can for the sake of clarity.

          1. I think different Mississippians think different things when they see that and I believe the current flag support rallies show that.

          2. Yes. All of them. Mississippi’s history doesn’t change. Our perspectives on it can as we as a people learn from it. For example: Does it just represent Emmitt Till’s lifeless body chained to an old exhaust fan at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River? Or the courage of Mose Wright to stand up and point out the killers in court? Is it the unwillingness of an all-white jury to convict Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam of the crime? Or is it how the entire community, when faced with the truth afterward, boycotted the killers into financial and personal ruin? We’re more than our worst moments. We’re a reflection of the responses to those moments too. That flag flew over all of that.

          3. Southern solidarity. And to many it might have had racist connotations. But that hardly matters if you see history as alive. See number 2.

          4. Absolutely there are facts. Meanings of those facts don’t necessarily evolve. But as we learn more facts of history, which again I don’t deem to be a stale series of facts but an unfolding of them, then we broaden our understanding. WE evolve and history continues and therefore what that flag represents evolves with us. It’s not locked away in a bubble in time. We begin to see it from the standpoint of others. For example, I think it’s quite presumptuous of anyone to assume they can speak for all of the black community with respect to their perspective on the state flag. Have you heard of Arlene Barnum? Corinthian Sanders, Al Arnold? There are more. These are African Americans who support the flag. Al Arnold lives in my home county of Madison and took 8-years of his life to research and write a book about his great-great grandfather, Turner Hall. What he found was that seventy two years after the Civil war, his grandfather was still a very proud Confederate and held in his possession a cherished gift from the Confederate Civil War general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Al’s personal research discovered that Hall was owned by Forrest as a slave and loved the general and his service to the Confederate armies.

          What about Forrest himself? He is credited as founder of the KKK. But he was also later in life the first white person to speak to the group that would evolve into the NAACP, where he spoke of his desire to unite people of all races.

          Redemption, Bill. What happened to the splinter in another man’s eye revealing the plank in our own? No one is beyond God’s grace.

          5. I don’t know. That meaning is certainly more developed than it was 50-years ago. I think that’s why you have this major push by some to redefine it back to what it meant then, and to lock it in some protected span of history. It’s a tool being used to divide. And changing it is only going to divide even more.

          6. I think it can be a sign of redemption for all citizens of our state and I think it can be something we point to and say, “that is what our ancestors went through, that is what our state went through, and we have overcome that to be different, to be better. That flag no longer means what it once meant because we don’t let it divide us, we let it remind us to work hard to show that it can also unite us. Is that a pipe dream? Maybe it is. I don’t know. What I do know is I believe in the hearts and I believe in the strength of character values that still exist in Mississippi in both the white and black communities that are built on past generations imparting a wisdom that isn’t taught in textbooks. But, the longer we allow these types of division the harder it is to overcome. I prefer to think we are strong and able, rather than giving in to try to shut some crowd up. That’s not educating anyone and it’s not opening an honest dialogue.

          Which is what this commentary is about. Oliver’s use of that word was another divisive action by a politician who was hoping to get some traction out of something shocking. It serves no uniting purpose. It takes forethought to discuss your beliefs honestly with those who don’t believe or whose eyes have been purposefully closed to seeing each other with that mutual level of respect.

          7. See number 6.

          • William H Smith

            1. Yes. It means different things to different people. For the vast majority of Black citizens it means slavery, oppression, segregation, lynching, denial of voting rights, etc. For some white citizens it means virtually the same things and damn right. For other whites it means defiance, snubbing your nose at the federal government. For some, like me, it means pride in in being a Southerner, respect for my ancestors, reminder of some of my heroes such as Lee and Jackson, and nostalgia regarding “the lost cause.” But, what cannot be denied is what it it means to almost all black people and a growing number of whites – division, bad memories, a need to move on. It really is not asking much to say, “Let’s have a Flag which we all can have pride in, a Flag that represents our state and our high aspirations today, a symbol of reconciliation between our black wand white citizens.

            2. The Battle Flag reminds of all those negative things and none of those positive things.

            3. Yes, Southern solidarity. Segregation yesterday, today, and forever. Southern resistance and defiance.

            4.Yes, I believe in redemption. But I do not believe for a moment that the Battle Fag can ever be a symbol of redemption. Regarding your anecdotes. Yes, there were Blacks who loved their masters, who accepted their status, and who fought for the South. During the days is segregation there were Blacks who knew their place, accepted it, and go along fine with the whites who treated them at best as people to be patronized – people you will treat well but whom you would never allow in your church or school or restaurant. I don’t think those relations were healthy in terms of treating Black people as made in the image of God, as equals with all the rights of whites. The Battle Flag cannot represent a right and Christian way of relations between Whites and Black. Yes, I know the story of Nathan Bedford Forrest (Shelby Foote says he and Lincoln were the two geniuses of the War). I know about his profession of Christian faith. I know about his speaking to Black gatherings. And, my guess, based on the changes in him is that he would favor a change of the Flag. I am almost certain Lee would favor a change.

            5.For Black people the evolution is that it is more offensive than ever. For a growing number of Whites there is an increasing number of who see the offense and wish we could get past this and have a Flag that represents us all..

            6. You would like to see the Flag point to redemption – perhaps. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on that one. But give the objective history and the subjective feelings of almost all Blacks, and the sympathy of a growing number of Whites that Battle Flag is incapable of ever standing for redemption.

            7. See #6.

            If you are really and sincerely interested in redemption and reconciliation you will support a change. A new flag could help to redeem MS from the wrong inflicted on Blacks and promote reconciliation of the races. What you have now is a terrible division. Schools, cities, town, counties won’t display the Flag. Others will make a point of displaying it as an act of defiance. Others of us will respect the Flag and fly it in appropriate settings while fervently hoping that our state leaders and people such as you would lead the way in giving us a new flag representing redemption and reconciliation.

            • Keith Plunkett

              “Almost all blacks” don’t support it. To the “vast majority of blacks” it means slavery and segregation, etc. I have seen no survey or polling numbers to support these amplifications, Bill.

              The last numbers I can find of any significance is a national poll from 2015, which offfers no definitive indication of the feeling in Mississippi. It showed that the needle had hardly moved among blacks in their feelings about the Battle Flag being. 55-percent have either a positive reaction (6%) and are indifferent (49%). That’s the same overall number among black Americans that it was in 2011. The last statewide polling done that I remember seeing from 2001 had the black support of the current state flag at 30%.

              This is obviously not “almost all” or “vast” on either count, unless you are aware of numbers I haven’t seen.

              I think Mr. Arnold would take exception to characterizing his great-great grandfather as comfortably “accepting his status” as a slave. Because Mr. Hall made those complimentary statements about NBF and the Confederacy decades after he was a freedman.

              These absolutes or near absolutes you deal in prove my point about the mischaracterization of a simple constructed narrative to describe a very complex history of which no person can fully grasp today.

              To boot, your revisionism attempts to diagnose their mental health by claiming “I don’t think those relations were healthy.”

              But again, you don’t know about every relationship between people of different races, past or present, and you don’t have a time machine (do you? Because, I’d really like a ride.). 🙂

              That’s the thing about complexity and diversity. People can only extrapolate so much. By allowing people access to as much known information as possible, and differing opinions they can conduct an honest assessment for themselves.

              • William H Smith

                I think we’ve about said it all. Enjoyed the discussion. I find your statements unconvincing as you find mine. The Flag will be changed. I don’t know how soon, but, as has happened with other matters, MS will catch up with the rest of the South on the Battle Flag issue. The opposition to changing the Flag by those who do or should know better will only prolong the fight and make the change the more painful for the obstructionists.

                • Keith Plunkett

                  I don’t really know what I’m obstructing if that’s what your saying, Bill. And you very well may be right that it will change.

                  But I just flat out disagree with the paternalistic implication that those who oppose changing the state flag “do or should know better”. I don’t give anyone the authority to direct me from a place that refuses to articulate a convincing argument to gain my agreement, yet still assumes they know better.

                  I do “know better”. But it’s not that the flag should change. It’s that I know I shouldn’t roll over and let something happen without challenging it on the grounds that it’s inevitable, or that my insight and experience is less valid. I try very hard to not approach these discussions from the standpoint of disagreeing with a person just to oppose him or her, or out of political posturing.

                  I had the chance to cash in. I just couldn’t overcome my tendency to tell the truth that I see and excitedly show others the generations of wisdom I am lucky enough to count as my inheritance. I know now that I have an incredible family on both sides.

                  Many challenges society faces offer us great opportunities to examine in more detail the beauty and complexity of this life, and to test our principles against the human tendency to take the easy way out. It allows us to develop a deeper appreciation for one another through dialogue.

                  I’m blessed with a continuing drive towards analysis and interpretation of these challenges and to test them, when possible, against ethics, morals, logic and civic duty.

                  This Fall will mark 15-years since I first began writing professionally. I couldn’t begin to see my life without it at this point.

                  I wish for you and your family a truly inspiring and rewarding Memorial Day Weekend, Bill.

                  Best . . .

                  • Keith Plunkett

                    Oh. By the way. I saw where you linked another article I wrote on your website a week or so ago, worked the whole guilt by association angle and then left out key points of my commentary. So I tried to go to your site and comment. Any specific reason you’d have me blocked?