The Legacy of the Welfare State and the Loss of Mississippi Grit

By Keith Plunkett | September 8th, 2017 at 6:10 am

BY: Keith Plunkett / Managing Editor

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

Filed Under: Civil Rights, Contributor, Culture, Democrats, Education, Faith, Feature Stories, Federal Government, History, Influencing Institutions, Justice, Keith Plunkett, Legislature, Liberty, Mississippi, Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, Mississippi PEP, Mississippi State House, MS State Government, Opinion, Politics, Principles of Freedom, Progressivism, Race, Social Justice, State Flag

“There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”

–Eric Hoffer


“Today, what is often referred to as oppression is really little more than the creation of selfish social drama.”

Should memorials, displays and symbols honoring the lives of southerners who served as soldiers in the Confederacy have been forbidden in the South after the Civil War? That would be debatable if we lived in the United States in the late 1860’s and in the subsequent years as these events were taking place. But, we didn’t and we don’t. As such, these decisions were made based on the needs and wants of society at the time. Through the passage of time and the actions of the living, the history of these symbols and memorials have taken on a deeper historic meaning than the simple snapshots in time that interest groups want to use to define them negatively.

There’s a big difference between rebuilding a nation, and healing one. And the task before the American people immediately after the Civil War was to try and do both. If our forefathers could work to do such a thing so incredibly challenging (you might say “monumental”) then the least we could do today is to gain a correct understanding of the basic history as a means to debate the actual value of these monuments, banners and symbols.

Al Arnold came to the knowledge of his Confederate ancestor in 2008. He started to search for an understanding of why, how, what and when did his great-great grandfather serve during the Civil War. His journey has led him to embrace his Confederate heritage and the roles of slaves in the Civil War. He is a member of the Civil War Roundtable in Jackson, MS. He has a desire to see more African Americans study the Civil War and their connections to this vital part of America’s history. To this aim, he has written this book. He believes the Civil War history is Black history.

Defining history as only one thing or only another is a way some people refuse to have more difficult discussions. After all, it’s easier to blame ones failures on a long dead soldier who’s depiction in a memorial can’t tell us today of his own missteps. It’s easier to convince oneself of the likelihood of being smarter, faster, happier, richer, or more appreciated by others if it weren’t for the “oppressiveness” of a flag or a symbol that “creates” doubt in someone’s mind about their own self-worth.

Real Oppression Vs. The Creation of Social Drama

But, unlike today, the fears emancipated slaves faced at the close of the 1860’s were of actual oppression. Their level of accomplishments at that point in history were heavily influenced by injustice in everyday life. Their lives were subject to cruelty as one might treat an inanimate object or livestock.  In the latter half of the 1860’s these fears weren’t unsubstantiated. These were for many at that time actual memories.

Yet despite what must have been at times debilitating, the opportunities provided by individual freedom were many. These oppressive examples were no match for the wonders of the promise of a new world. Oppression, “the legacy of slavery,” didn’t stop the formerly enslaved from picking themselves up and working towards becoming self sufficient at a time when the former Confederate states had been economically decimated, and the Union abandoned the former slaves they all too eagerly used for strategic advantage during the war.

This oppression didn’t get in the way of the fight to overcome poverty and lack of resources during that time. Both white and black citizens had to deal with rebuilding their own lives as well as the infrastructure of society and the south. The destruction of a personally known way of doing things had to be met with determination to survive. This all occurred without the comfort of any except the most basic fraternal society ‘safety net’ programs to fall back on.

Such oppressive conditions makes present day circumstances of the poor resemble more a luxury lifestyle. In fact, what is often referred to as oppressive today is more aptly defined as the individual creation of social drama.

Yet these real oppressive conditions that became a part of the southern social structure in some areas, and in some cases fed hatreds that would eventually give birth to the evils of ‘Jim Crow’ society, still didn’t put a halt to individual success.

Despite the seriousness of the day and the threat of harm these worries didn’t extinguish, for example, the courage of Mose Wright decades later. Wright, a black man, stood up and pointed out to an all-white jury the man he last saw young Emmit Till with not long before Till was found murdered.  It didn’t stop the entire community from facing the truth of Roy Bryant’s and J.W. Milam’s guilt after the lack of a conviction and it didn’t stop the community from banding together and boycotting the brothers business, eventually leading to their financial and personal ruin.

These dangerous times didn’t convince Vernon Dahmer or Medgar Evers to stay home and not go out and register voters.

It didn’t keep Michael Schwerner, James Chaney or Andrew Goodman from meeting death at a young age for daring to put their belief into action.

And it didn’t stop the marches that eventually led to the downfall of the ‘Jim Crow’ system of intimidation.

It didn’t keep James Meredith from facing down a governor and an hostile student body at Ole Miss, and it didn’t stop the eventual acceptance of Meredith as an ambassador of courage from our state to the world.

It didn’t stop young Riley King from working his fingers to the bone throughout the week for a chance to walk and hitch a ride several miles into downtown Memphis every weekend. Nor did it tamp down the fire inside that led him to become the greatest bluesman the world has ever known.

It didn’t stop the Vietnamese immigrants who sought out a better life and who settled on the Gulf Coast to work the shrimp boats.

Nor did it stop millions of other Mississippians from displaying the necessary grit and confidence to become something greater than most would have ever expected possible if they had allowed the circumstances they were born into to define them. These strong Mississippians would, I believe, laugh today at the suggestion that a flag or a symbol could ever stop a truly driven person from doing what he or she felt was their purpose in life.

These are just a few examples of Mississippians who were forced to deal with real oppression, real racism, and real life and death decisions. They succeeded anyway.

Mississippi Grit

That type of grit is what makes Mississippians who we are. That type of refusal to accept the life we’re ‘authorized’ to have, to demand more of ourselves and refuse to allow someone to stop us; that is the rebellious spirit that is a part of Mississippians DNA. That is the hard-knocks facing, rough-and-tumble surviving, challenges-make-us-stronger unity Mississippians share that the current state flag has come to represent.

And we want to take those lessons away from our children and their children’s children? Do we want future generations to view that flag in a museum and tell their kids of their forefathers, “They fought through all those challenges and they fought for redemption, and then they got soft. They chose to forget and to give in to querulous grumblers.”

When Political Clout Comes Before Productive Value

Rep. Sonya Williams - Barnes

For her part, Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, Chairman of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, said what she wants in a new state flag.

“What we’re really wanting is a flag that charts a different future for our state, that charts a different future for our children and that is about a vision that unites people in the state with each other as well as unites Mississippi with other states in the nation,” she said.

If we could only depend on the inanimate object to do the work for us that would be great. But flags don’t chart the future. Individuals do that for themselves and, as the abbreviated list above shows, the strength of these individuals many times do work for all of society with their hard fought actions. Black Americans had largely done that work prior to 1965 by fighting their way into the labor markets of the country and keeping their families and their communities strong.

The Welfare State Did What Slavery and Jim Crow Couldn’t Do.

Prior to 1965, blacks across the country had all but overcome the negative setbacks brought on by centuries of slavery. Thomas Sowell, the well known economist whose demographic studies on the negative economic effects of welfare on society, makes the point crystal clear.

He writes:

You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization — including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain — without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large.

Yet rather than look to successful examples of the past it has become the norm of many in the minority communities, with the help of the creation of the idea of “social justice”, to blame their personal setbacks on oppression and “systemic racism”.

Sowell writes that the “social justice” vision:

is nowhere more clearly expressed than in attempts to automatically depict whatever social problems exist in ghetto communities as being caused by the sins or negligence of whites, whether racism in general or a “legacy of slavery” in particular.

Like most emotionally powerful visions, it is seldom, if ever, subjected to the test of evidence.

“The “legacy of slavery” argument is not just an excuse for inexcusable behavior in the ghettos,’ writes Sowell. “In a larger sense, it is an evasion of responsibility for the disastrous consequences of the prevailing social vision of our times, and the political policies based on that vision, over the past half century.”

Anyone who is serious about evidence need only compare black communities as they evolved in the first 100 years after slavery with black communities as they evolved in the first 50 years after the explosive growth of the welfare state, beginning in the 1960s.

You would be hard-pressed to find as many ghetto riots prior to the 1960s as we have seen just in the past year, much less in the 50 years since a wave of such riots swept across the country in 1965.

We are told that such riots are a result of black poverty and white racism. But in fact — for those who still have some respect for facts — black poverty was far worse, and white racism was far worse, prior to 1960. But violent crime within black ghettos was far less.

Murder rates among black males were going down — repeat, DOWN — during the much lamented 1950s, while it went up after the much celebrated 1960s, reaching levels more than double what they had been before.

Most black children were raised in two-parent families prior to the 1960s. But today the great majority of black children are raised in one-parent families.

Larry Elder, a best selling author and radio host known for his straight talk on the subject of racism and political correctness, makes many of the same points.

Elder writes, “according to the World Almanac of 2005 nearly 70 percent of black children are born outside of wedlock. With Latinos, the rate is almost 45 percent, whites nearly 30 percent, and Asians 15 percent. Overall, about 34 percent of America’s children today are born outside of wedlock.”

Compared to children living with both biological parents in similar socioeconomic circumstances, children of never-married mothers exhibit 68 percent more antisocial behavior, 24 percent more headstrong behavior, 33 percent more hyperactive behavior, 78 percent more peer conflict, and 53 percent more dependency. Overall, children of never-married mothers have behavioral problems that score nearly three times higher than children raised in comparable intact families.

Sowell points out the results of the family destroying policies of federal welfare programs:

The poverty rate among black families fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent in 1960, during an era of virtually no major civil rights legislation or anti-poverty programs. It dropped another 17 percentage points during the decade of the 1960s and one percentage point during the 1970s.

In various skilled trades, the incomes of blacks relative to whites more than doubled between 1936 and 1959. The rise of blacks in professional and other high-level occupations was greater in the five years preceding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than in the five years afterwards.

Dr. Richard Ebeling, Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel, describes the dangerously unstable way ‘identity politics’ has poisoned the American ideal.

However imperfect in practice, the idea and ideal of America have been the uniqueness, dignity and respect for the individual, regardless of that person’s accidents of birth or country of origin. I consider this philosophic and political principle of individualism to be the source and the basis of the all the advancements and improvements in American society, including for a growing number of those who are of African descent.

However, people are being forced back into a new tribalism and a new racial and ethnic collectivism in the public arena due to the renewed insistence on “group-think” that is reinforced by a variety of government policies. It has ended up compelling people to think about others and themselves not in terms of whom they are as individual human beings, but about what racial, ethnic or gender group they belong to and what politically bestowed benefits or disadvantages come with that collectivist classification.

What also stands out throughout the American experience is that in spite of these anti-individualist cultural trends and economic policies, there has endured enough of the American spirit of individualism and practice of free enterprise that has more than anything else, in my opinion, succeeded in being the great and good force for reducing many of the racial animosities and tensions that may continue to linger in our society.

The political left feeds off highlighting these egregious acts. But their worldview is based and dependent on the belief and insistence that race relations are as bad as or even worse than in the “bad old days.”

This is flagrantly not the case by any reasonable historical standard. But the political left’s agenda and policies are helping to make us a far more race-conscious society once again, which can only bring with it serious negative consequences for American society as a whole.

So, if we want to be responsible citizens and protect our families and society at large from what Sowell called “ruinous consequences” shouldn’t we be willing to speak some hard truth to others who are causing this problem?

It will require a committment to inspire a truly ‘UNITED vision’ by talking “about black men taking renewed responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities. It’s about saying no to crime and drugs and violence. It’s about standing up for atonement and reconciliation. It’s about insisting that others do the same and offering to help them. It’s about the frank admission that unless black men shoulder their load, no one else can help them or their brothers, their sisters and their children escape the hard, bleak lives that too many of them still face. … It’s not racist for whites to assert that the culture of welfare dependency, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and absent fatherhood cannot be broken by social programs, unless there is first more personal responsibility.”

The answer to whether or not we as a society should stand up and state our recommitment to these important truths would not likely be very welcome in some corners within the black community today.

But that didn’t stop President Bill Clinton from saying those exact words (italics) in 1995 to black men who were in Washington DC for the ‘Million Man March.’

Shouldn’t we also inspire a ‘united vision’ for southern and state history?

And what flag does Rep. Williams-Barnes think will chart a different future and inspire a ‘united vision’ for Mississippi? She introduced it in a bill in the 2017 Session of the Mississippi Legislature. House Bill 1281 died in committee. It would have changed the official flag of the State of Mississippi to the following:

* * * with width two-thirds (2/3) of
its length; with the union (canton) to be square, in width
two-thirds (2/3) of the width of the flag; the ground of the union
to be old glory blue, and emblazoned with one (1) large white
five-pointed star pointed upward; the field to be white, bordered
with red on the fly side and centered upon the field to be the
design of a large green magnolia tree in full bloom; this being
the official flag of the State of Mississippi before the flag
adopted by the Mississippi Legislature in the 1894 Special
Session, which is known as the “Magnolia Flag”.

What is this “Magnolia Flag”?

It’s the exact same flag Mississippi adopted in 1861 . . . the year the state seceded from the Union . . . to join the newly formed Confederacy.

Here’s what the Mississippi Historical Society says about the Magnolia Flag:

From January 9, 1861, to March 30, 1861, the Bonnie Blue Flag was the unofficial emblem of the sovereign state of Mississippi, which had not yet joined the Confederate States of America. On January 26, the last day of the first session of the 1861 convention, the delegates approved the report of a special committee that had been appointed to design a coat of arms and “a suitable flag.”

The committee’s recommendation for an official flag was: “A Flag of white ground, a Magnolia tree in the centre, a blue field in the upper left hand corner with a white star in the centre, the Flag to be finished with a red border and a red fringe at the extremity of the Flag.”10 This emblem became known as the Magnolia Flag.

Under the pressure of time and the urgency of raising the “means for the defense of the state,” the delegates forgot to adopt an ordinance formalizing the flag committee’s report. When the delegates reassembled in March, however, that oversight was corrected. On March 30, again on the last day of the session, the delegates officially adopted the Magnolia Flag as the state flag of Mississippi.

And they conclude:

In the aftermath of the Civil War, a constitutional convention assembled in Jackson, Mississippi, on August 14, 1865, to revoke and repeal many of the actions taken by the Secession Convention of 1861. On August 22, the convention declared the Ordinance of Secession null and void and repealed several other ordinances. Among those repealed was the ordinance adopting a coat of arms and a state flag. This action left Mississippi without an official flag.

A state lawmaker, and leader of the only racially exclusive organization still operating in the Mississippi Legislature, is making political headlines calling for unity behind a divisive banner.


If you had just read the sentence above not aware of the details of the full story you might conclude it was pulled from an article published 100-years ago featuring some segregationist politician. But today that describes the Chairwoman of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, a woman so determined to use her politically gained power to get rid of the current state flag, she can’t even be bothered to know some very basic history about the flag she wants to replace it with. And we’re told it’s the current flag that is supposedly an embarrassment to the state?

It would be bad enough were it only Rep. Williams-Barnes. But there are a number of anti-state flaggers these days pointing to the Magnolia flag as their preference to replace the current state flag, without an ounce of shame that the banner they prefer is actually one of the most divisive symbols in state history, as it represents secession.

So, to unite Mississippi we’re going to adopt a flag that flew as a result of secession? That’s absolute ignorance, plain and simple. With logic like that Mississippi deserves to be the laughing stock of the nation.

The world is full of people pushing for charting a new future, and the importance of moving on, not living in the past, super new administrative advances, and the like. But history is the only certainty from which we truly learn and connect those lessons to life. The future is a much easier place to be for those who haven’t studied the lessons of the past, and therefore aren’t prepared to make an impact on the present.

Rep. Williams-Barnes and those pushing for the “Magnolia Flag” appear to need a remedial course in history. But if a full out history lesson is out of the question, in this case a simple primer in how to use the internet would suffice.

  • William H Smith

    The issue of the flag is that a flag is a symbol of a state. The citizens of a state should feel pride and loyalty toward their state when they see the flag. A flag ought to inspire “state patriotism.” It ought to be symbol that unites the whole state. The simple reality is that the present flag with the battle flag incorporated does not do any of those things. No amount of explaining, historical review, or protestations such as “we’re not racists,” can change hearts and minds. The present state flag’s symbolic meaning is MS resistance and defiance toward the federal government and the United States. For some whites it is a symbol of while superiority and power and a determination to maintain that power. For blacks it is a symbol of slavery, racism, Jim Crow, denial of civil rights, a day when the “n-word” was commonly used by whites to express disdain, and deaths in the attempt to gain the simple rights of ordinary citizens in the U.S.

    Now, what about the Magnolia flag? It too would be a symbol. Would it be a constant reminder of the War years? It might. But it also might, and in my view provably would, not. But once agreed that we need a new flag, the idea of the Magnolia flag can be tested – how will it stand with the public? Unlike the present flag, the Magnolia flag might simply represent “Mississippi” the magnolia state.

    But if the Magnolia flag cannot gain sufficient consensus, then we could start from scratch.

    The point is that flags are symbols. The current flag’s symbolic meaning, the meaning of public perception is negative. It simply cannot do what flags are supposed to do. A new flag could have a positive symbolic value and could be one small, but now important, step toward unity and reconciliation. No amount of retelling history, whether accurately or inaccurately, is going to change the reality of what the present flag means.

    If we could accept that flags are symbols and the symbols are based on public perception, then this would not any longer be a black-white, conservative-liberal, Republican-Democrat issue. It would simply be a case of Mississippians wanting a flag that functions as flags function.