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Rosie DiManno: Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Alford proud that Mississippi is removing the Confederate flag: ‘There will be change. We’re seeing it.’

Rosie DiManno: Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Alford proud that Mississippi is removing the Confederate flag: ‘There will be change. We’re seeing it.’
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As a battle emblem, it was prominently featured on the state flag — raised on every school mast, outside every civic building, every courthouse, every police station.

“It’s always been there,” says the Toronto Blue Jays outfielder. “To me personally, I was immune to it but you couldn’t not see it. So I just tried to put my head down and not look.”

Within a couple of weeks, Alford won’t be seeing it anymore, at least not woven into the official iconography of a state with the greatest ratio of Blacks — 40 per cent of the populace — in America.

“I don’t think the good old boys will be taking it off the back of their trucks.”

Mississippi, the last remaining state with an overt Confederacy symbol in its flag, once and for all an insignia so deeply evocative of segregation, racial violence and a war that fought to preserve slavery.

The Republican-dominated state legislature agreed the Confederacy is an ensign non grata. A motion was passed in both the House and the Senate to remove the flag within 15 days of the bill’s passage from everywhere it had flown for the last 126 years. A committee has been struck to approve a new design, with two mandatory requirements: It must feature the words “In God We Trust’’ and it cannot include any hint of the Confederacy battle emblem.

“The flag was a sign of oppression,” said Alford, who still lives in Mississippi in the off-season. “The people who fought under that flag were fighting to keep their slaves.”

Alford’s family hails from Mississippi and Alabama. “My grandmother was a sharecropper. That flag still represents a white supremacist attitude.”

In fact, the Confederate state flag — 13 white stars atop a blue X with a red background — was adopted in 1894, nearly 30 years after the end of the Civil War and the Confederacy’s surrender. It’s creation was a direct appeal to aging Confederate veterans and, as described in an account published by the Mississippi Historical Society, a Rebel flag nod to enduring white supremacy following a brief period of Reformation enlightenment and the introduction of Jim Crow laws.

The battle flag re-emerged as totemic in the middle of the 20th century, a powerful symbol of white resistance to the civil rights movement in the 60s that protested and marched for Black voting rights and desegregation.

Amidst the sudden reckoning of racial injustice, the massive demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd by cops in Minneapolis, it was inevitable that Mississippi’s reprehensible holdout flag would be permanently furled. Confederate and colonial statues monuments are being pulled down, streets and public squares rebranded, universities striking out the names of Confederate notables from their buildings.

The romanticized Old South is undergoing a De-Confederacy revolution.

As recently as 2001, a Mississippi referendum on the flag resulted in an overwhelming vote to retain it. Many white people still cling to it as an emblem honouring the sacrifice of ancestors who shed blood for the Confederacy and their historical pride. But clearly there’s been a shift, even in deepest Dixie, with the Mississippi governor, who had earlier preferred taking the second referendum route, now promising he would sign the bill as soon as it crosses his desk. While certainly a moral imperative, the pols were likely more influenced by economic considerations. Mississippi, one of the poorest states, has absorbed financial blows, with the NCAA recently announcing it would preclude Mississippi from hosting any championship events until the flag was changed. Investment and corporations have shunned the state as well.

Of course, the Confederate flag won’t disappear from the landscape. Nobody is going to rip it out of a homeowner’s front window or off a truck’s tailgate.

“They look at it from a heritage standpoint and I understand that,” says Alford. “Our history of slavery goes back more than 400 years. The system was put in place to keep Black people down. So it will take time to change people’s attitude. But this is a positive move. Now we’ll have a flag that can proudly represent all the people of Mississippi.”

He tweeted that out on Sunday night: “I must say, Mississippi made me proud today!!!’’

Alford, a most genial and gentlemanly 25-year-old of firm Christian values, has certainly had his own exposure to racism, both overt and subtle. “Growing up, I was always called by the N-word.” He recalls the time when, driving back from a football game in Baton Rouge — he’d just acquired his license — with then-girlfriend and now wife Bailey and a male friend, his car was pulled over on the highway just south of Hattiesburg by a white patrolman.

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A high school senior and two-sport star at the time, Alford didn’t even realize his rights and immediately did as he was told — get out of the car, remove all your possessions of the car.

“The officer asked if I’d been drinking, if I had any drugs. No and no. He strip-searched my car. Didn’t find anything but left all my stuff on the side of the road.” Then the cop sent him on with a “have a good night.”

There were no reasonable grounds for the search. But a Black man doesn’t argue with a white cop in the South.

“Just last week I was at a restaurant and there was this white lady parked outside. As soon as she saw me, she rolled up her windows and locked the car.”

And, while Alford said he has not encountered racism in Toronto, there was that time, as a minor-leaguer playing a game in Calgary: “I was just sitting in the lobby of the hotel. The manager came over and asked me what I was doing. He thought I was a homeless person and was pretty much trying to propel me outside. I told him, I’m staying here.
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