Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a senior reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

Get my RSS |

Advertise on MotherJones.com

How a Mediocre Football Team Helped Mississippi Evolve on the Confederate Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 10:47 AM EDT
In 2010, the University of Mississippi replaced its old Colonel Reb mascot with a black bear. The Care Bear above didn't make the cut.

On to Mississippi. Just hours after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked the state legislature to pass a law removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn issued a call for his state to follow suit. The Confederate battle flag is embedded in the upper left corner of the official state flag, but "as a Christian," Gunn wrote on Facebook, "I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed." Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and a well-connected politico himself, echoed Gunn's call.

How did white conservatives in Mississippi—the deepest of the Deep South—get to this point, not long after Haley Barbour, as governor, kept a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office? It helps that the state has gone through a process like this one before.

For decades, the University of Mississippi's identity was intertwined with that of its football team, the Rebels. In 1962, Democratic Gov. Ross Barnett waved the Confederate flag in the bleachers in support of the school's all-white team the night before a white mob attacked National Guardsmen assigned to protect the school's first black student, James Meredith. The team's mascot, Colonel Reb, wore a Confederate uniform and rode a horse called Traveler—the same name as the steed owned by Robert E. Lee. Over time, the mascot evolved into a less militant figure, a Colonel Sanders-esque old white man with a red suit and a cane, but the antebellum (or just bellum) nostalgia was evident. At games, students waved Confederate flags. They called the place "Ole Miss."

But the team was also—to use what I think is the appropriate term—a lost cause. It was losing out on top-flight talent, and its leaders had an inkling why. In his 2013 memoir, the school's former chancellor, Robert Khyat, recalled the pivotal moment, in the locker room after a shutout loss to the team's archrival, Mississippi State. When Khyat walked in, the Rebels' head coach told him, "We can't recruit against the Confederate flag."

The team stopped flying the flag at games in 1997. A few years later, again citing the impossibility of recruiting African Americans to the program, along with broader concerns about rebranding, it jettisoned Colonel Reb.

Colonel Reb and his die-hard supporters have not gone away quietly. An unsanctioned zombie Colonel Reb mascot continued to haunt campus on game days until 2009. A state legislator tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill restoring Colonel Reb. Last November, a state tea party leader launched a signature drive for a ballot initiative in the 2016 election that would bring back Colonel Reb once and for all. The old mascot has a small army of devoted fans who believe its absence is a direct assault on their heritage. It's a lot like the Confederate flag.

Other aspects of the school's makeover have faced a backlash. A new statue of Meredith on campus was vandalized in 2014. A white student placed a noose around the statue's neck, attached to an old Georgia flag that included the Confederate symbol. (In March, the alleged perpetrator was charged with federal civil rights crimes.)

But the school is moving on. In 2010, after a seven-year spell without a mascot, it asked students to submit their own ideas for a new one. A group of students, real-life American heroes, launched a grassroots campaign to make Admiral Ackbar, the meme-friendly squid commander from Star Wars, the new face of Ole Miss:

Ultimately, the school went with a black bear (inspired by a William Faulkner short story), who wears slacks, a blazer, and a Panama hat. It also began phase three of its image rehabilitation campaign, scaling back the usage of the nickname Ole Miss.

Momentum notwithstanding, the campaign to change the Mississippi flag is still in the germination phase. But if the state government wants to follow its flagship university's lead, we can think of a certain alien admiral who'd look great on a flag.

Huckabee Says the Confederate Flag Shouldn’t Be a Campaign Issue—Except That Time He Made It One

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 10:15 AM EDT

On Sunday, just days after a gunman killed nine African American parishioners at a Charleston church, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee argued on Meet the Press that presidential candidates should not need to answer questions about the Confederate battle flag:

For those of us running for president, everyone's being baited with this question as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is it most certainly does not.

Where could anyone have gotten the impression that the flag is a presidential campaign issue?

Maybe from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who did everything short of actually firing on Fort Sumter in an effort to court white South Carolina voters during his 2008 presidential campaign:

You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole; that's what we'd do.

Evidently, Huckabee's pandering on the flag issue was deemed a successful strategy. In that same campaign, the New York Times noted, an independent group ran radio ads attacking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for criticizing the Confederate flag, and boasted that "Mike Huckabee understands the value of heritage."

Allen Ginsberg Wrote a Poem for Bernie Sanders and It's Pretty Great

| Fri Jun. 19, 2015 10:44 AM EDT

The Guardian's Paul Lewis wrote a great profile of Sen. Bernie Sanders' years as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, including excerpts from Sanders' correspondence with foreign heads of state, but let's cut right to the chase: Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem for Bernie Sanders in 1986.

It goes like this:

Socialist snow on the streets

Socialist talk in the Maverick bookstore

Socialist kids sucking socialist lollipops

Socialist poetry in socialist mouths

—aren't the birds frozen socialists?

Aren't the snowclouds blocking the airfield

Social Democratic Appeasement?

Isn't the socialist sky owned by

the socialist sun?

Earth itself socialist, forests, rivers, lakes

furry mountains, socialist salt

in oceans?

Isn't this poem socialist? It doesn't

belong to me anymore.

I think we know James Franco's next movie.

Dylann Roof Had Confederate Plates. Here's Why the Rebel Flag Still Flies in South Carolina.

| Thu Jun. 18, 2015 11:31 AM EDT
Pro-flag demonstrators at the South Carolina Capitol after the flag was removed from the dome in 2000.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will almost certainly order flags across the state to be flown at half-mast this week in honor of the black parishioners murdered Wednesday night at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. But one flag will continue to fly as it always has—the Confederate flag in front of the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia. In a photo posted by the New York Times, the alleged gunman, Dylann Storm Roof, is seen posing in front of a car with a license plate bearing several iterations of the flag. (In an odd twist, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Texas could refuse to offer specialty Confederate flag license plates that had been requested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.)


The flag, a symbol of the struggle by a white minority engaged in an armed insurrection to preserve its right to violently enslave the black majority, has long been a divisive issue in the state, and criticism of its continued display flared up again after Wednesday's shooting. It was removed from the Capitol dome after massive protests in 2000, and as part of a compromise, relocated to the Confederate memorial. But the flag's origins in Columbia are a remnant of segregation, not the Civil War—it was first flown over the Capitol in 1962 in response to the civil rights push from Washington.

Despite the most recent incident of racial violence, don't expect the flag to come down any time soon. When Republican Gov. Nikki Haley was asked about it at a debate during her 2014 re-election campaign, she argued that it was a non-issue:

What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag...We really kinda fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor, when we appointed the first African American US senator. That sent a huge message.


Given that less than 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOS are black (compared with 28 percent of South Carolinians), they may not be the best focus group.

Thu Aug. 18, 2011 11:42 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 18, 2011 9:47 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 18, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Wed Aug. 17, 2011 10:13 AM EDT
Tue Aug. 16, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Aug. 15, 2011 12:28 PM EDT
Sun Aug. 14, 2011 11:50 AM EDT
Sat Aug. 13, 2011 6:49 PM EDT
Sat Aug. 13, 2011 2:05 PM EDT
Fri Aug. 12, 2011 9:58 AM EDT
Fri Aug. 12, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 11, 2011 12:11 PM EDT
Wed Aug. 10, 2011 10:05 AM EDT
Mon Aug. 8, 2011 10:30 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 4, 2011 10:56 AM EDT
Tue Aug. 2, 2011 12:15 PM EDT
Mon Aug. 1, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Thu Jul. 28, 2011 1:28 PM EDT
Thu Jul. 28, 2011 10:50 AM EDT
Thu Jul. 28, 2011 8:51 AM EDT
Wed Jul. 27, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Tue Jul. 26, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Jul. 25, 2011 7:14 AM EDT
Fri Jul. 22, 2011 10:24 AM EDT
Thu Jul. 21, 2011 12:02 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 18, 2011 8:47 AM EDT
Fri Jul. 15, 2011 12:09 PM EDT
Fri Jul. 15, 2011 9:35 AM EDT
Wed Jul. 13, 2011 9:24 AM EDT