As the last state to fly the Confederate emblem in its state flag, Mississippi stands alone. But some Mississippians are actively pushing to change that. Red Flag is a deep dive podcast into the history of Mississippi’s state flag and modern efforts to update it. The show was created by a team of Mississippians via Podastery Studios, the same company behind Pass the Mic and Truth’s Table. I spoke to Beau York and Chellese Hall, the hosts of Red Flag, to learn more about this project.
I’d like to hear how Red Flag came about. How did Mississippi’s state flag become a matter of personal interest and advocacy for you both?
Beau York: I remember very specifically when it first struck me that this is something I should do. I was at the Legacy Conference in Chicago last year, and I was in my hotel room just reflecting on how I’d done a lot of traveling. And I had these two thoughts floating in my head. One is, after doing all this traveling and realizing when I go places, I have to tell people I’m from Mississippi. And it’s this “brace for impact” moment for what they think that means, the negative connotation that follows. Sometimes when I go and speak they’ll put up the flags of the various states that people are from. And there’s always this trepidation of what are they about to put up for me? Because I certainly would not want them to put up our current flag, that being a personal, very internal source of frustration and embarrassment.
And then also knowing that we were needing to do a new project with Podastery, we wanted to do something that was going to be impactful. It was going to have some meaning and also do things a little bit different than we’ve done in the past. A lot of what we’ve done in the past with Podastery has been very conversational. But I really wanted this podcast’s approach to be a little bit more hard-hitting and journalistic.
There’s also the extreme damage that the flag does, not just in terms of, “Oh, this is a bad look,” but also in terms of this actually being a traumatic image that has far-reaching impact, not just in the lives of Mississippians, but across the country. There’s a visceral reaction to our flag—as there should be—because of its history. And here in Mississippi, we don’t know our history.
Chellese Hall: I was born in Detroit, Michigan, and I moved to Mississippi when I was six. A lot of my family didn’t want to visit us and missed out on a lot of anniversaries, birthday parties, and graduations. The very first time I heard my great-granddad cuss was when he said, “[Expletive] no! I’m not going to come to Mississippi!” And I’m five years old, wondering what are you talking about? It’s really hurtful. A lot of my family in the North have roots in the South, but they haven’t been back since because of what they experienced.
There were kids at my school who wore Confederate flags, hats, belts, t-shirts, and all those things. And there was some kid on the bus who would always jokingly say, “The South will rise again!” and we just took it as, you know, white people being crazy or people being ignorant and latching on to radical Southern ideas. But those things are rooted in an attitude of racism. They’re rooted in an attitude of a lot of what are called now, politely, “Southern ideals.” But they’re rooted in the same ideas that the flag was created to champion power over black and brown people.
And getting back to the Red Flag project, it was like, how can I not do this? This needs to be told.There’s a visceral reaction to our flag—as there should be—because of its history. And here in Mississippi, we don’t know our history.
What do you hope to accomplish with the Red Flag podcast?
Beau: The ultimate endgame is we want to see the flag change. But we’re doing that through a method of education.
There’s also a piece of this that is to showcase to the world that there are actually Mississippians who want to see this change. This podcast is produced holistically by Mississippians, people that have ties to Mississippi. Either they grew up here or they live here, they’re transplants here or they were born here. All of the people that are making this show at every single level are tied to the state.
Chellese: Yeah, and I think people are really over apologies. It doesn’t need to be an “l’m sorry that we did this to you.” It needs to be much more of an acknowledgement in getting to the truth of how the ideas behind the flag really has Mississippi where it is today, but has also kept it where it’s been for so long.
You’ve talked here about how one of your goals is to persuade. So do you see fellow Mississippians as your primary audience for the show?
Beau: Yeah, you’re exactly right. You know, when we put together the project, we had a little internal pitch deck. We looked into who is our target audience. And yes, our primary target audience is Mississippi and specifically people who have personal investment, especially people who have control of where the state goes. You know, in the end, if you want to make this thing change, you have to influence those that have the ability to change it.
And then a very close secondary audience are national folks that are interested in what’s going on in Mississippi, or would be interested to see a new generation of Mississippi rising up and taking ownership of the state.
One of the things that surprised me about the show was hearing that you weren’t from the outside coming in, but you’re saying, “No, I’m a Mississippian. This is what I care about.” Tell me if this isn’t an accurate portrayal, but it feels to me that you’re not even necessarily appealing to some outside value. It’s almost like you’re asking Mississippians to take hold of a truer identity of who they are. That this flag isn’t who Mississippi is. It doesn’t represent who we are. Is that fair?
Chellese: Yeah, I think so. It’s a multi-faceted thing. We didn’t want to just say, “Oh, it’s a terrible, bad thing.” But we’re saying, this is the flag’s origin. This is what they meant. This is what they thought, this is what happened. We want to bring a linear view of how it was used as a tool during Jim Crow to how the flag got to where it is today.
Beau: I like how you put it too. Because the goal isn’t a hit to anyone’s heritage. Especially in the early episodes, we very much want to be inviting for everybody. Our goal was never to bash. The goal is to say, look at this raw and unfiltered. You should feel the weight of this in some capacity. It’s going to impact people differently because of the history. Whether you are a descendant of the oppressed or the oppressor, it’s going to come with a blow. It’s going to come with a gut punch. And it should. If we do our job, right, then we’re telling the history in an appropriate way. We don’t have to make the case. History itself makes the case in and of itself, just being what it has been.
It’s almost cliché at this point to talk about how divided the culture is politically. But what is your hope for this discussion, given that climate?
Beau: The first six episodes of the podcast have been about history. The final two episodes are less about history and more about what’s going on today. And we intentionally broke it up because of the way everything fell out. We knew that an election cycle was coming through, and we knew the midterms were happening. And even though none of the elected officials have any actual authority over changing it, it’s a pulse check to see where we are now.
Chellese: People need to understand that [there are] worse things to be than racist. It shouldn’t be such a harsh word. People understand prejudice or discrimination, but with racism, they think “Oh, I’m not a racist.” But if you are actually contributing to a system that has historically disenfranchised and terrorized a group of specific people by law or otherwise, then that makes you racist a little bit, implicitly or otherwise, by contributing in supporting this, either ignorantly or willfully.
Beau: We’ve seen the pushback. We’ve gotten the emails. The best part is whenever they accuse us of not being from Mississippi, which I always find fascinating.
And I almost don’t want to share this because this is Christ And Pop Culture, but you know, we’re in Mississippi. We’re in the Bible belt. A lot of the pushback that we get are from Christians.
Does that mean that the Church is a source of frustration for you? Or source of hope?
Chellese: I think the Church is a place that’s also learning and growing with types of issues like this. And they have to because people are searching for answers at the core of their faith to know what is right and wrong morally.
Time and time again, God has shown through His people that those who were impoverished, who were enslaved, and who were held captive, who were women, and who didn’t have power, who were the minorities and in a nation that was not their own, He was setting them free, giving them equal rights and equal power to be and to live and to worship and to pursue life.
At the core, there’s this faith and hope that we rely on within our faith in Christ. People were calling themselves “foolishly hopeful” that the flag would change. As far as if the Church is a source of frustration or of hope, I think it is never foolish to be hopeful, especially if we hope that there’s common ground. Sometimes there isn’t. But sometimes there is. And I’m always hopeful that there will be.