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A longtime member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Faggert helped gather 212,000 signatures in favor of the successful effort to leave the rebel symbol on the state flag. The flag has flown since 1894. (In other Southern states, the Confederate symbol wasn't raised until after federal antisegregation legislation was enacted in the 1960s, a fact that routs the "history-and-heritage" argument the way Grant routed Lee.) Faggert tells me that anyone who understands history respects the flag and rejects the notion that it is a sign of slavery or hatred. It was under that flag that his ancestors defended home and family against an invading army. "The whole issue of race is being used by our opponents to inflame emotion," he says. I ask him if it was possible that the flag on his shirt, in his office and on the pole out front of his school might inflame the emotions of African Americans, and if that was the reason not one of his 237 students is black. It was at this point that Faggert began telling me he knows more black people than I do.
One black guy I know is named Dolphus Weary, and it should come as no shock that Weary sees the flag issue differently from how Faggert does. Weary was on the committee that recommended the removal of the Confederate symbol, and I meet him in his downtown Jackson office, across from the Governor's mansion, where the flag flies, to find out why. "I've invited a white friend to join us," Weary tells me as I arrive. "I just want you to hear his side of this."
The friend is Lee Paris, a neighbor of Weary's who runs an investment and real estate business. Weary is executive director, and Paris is chairman, of a religious group called Mission Mississippi. "There's a cliche that the most segregated hour in the South is 11 o'clock on Sunday," Weary says. Since most blacks and whites in Mississippi are Christian, their idea was to use that common ground to find common ground on other issues, such as race. Paris, 43, spends a few minutes telling a heartfelt story about his Jewish great-great-grandfather, who escaped European persecution in 1859, landed in Mississippi and became a successful merchant in an economy built on slavery. "He went from persecution and obscurity to a place of prominence in the postbellum South. I am a son of that," Paris says. That same man fought on the Confederate side, and his battlefield mementos were passed down through the generations to Lee Paris.
"I love that flag, and I love my heritage," says Paris, who doesn't defend slavery but argues it was accepted in both the South and the North, and "Old Glory flew over slavery as well." To Paris, the rebel flag was not a symbol of slavery or hatred. Especially not after he went to Ole Miss and waved it at football games.