I should have known that Massachusetts native John Lee was inspired to bring Confederate imagery to Walpole High School after spending time in Tennessee. Tennessee is my home state — the place where I had no escape from the Confederate flags, statues of generals from the blue and gray army, and all manner of Dixie-themed merchandise. I hated it. Hated the revisionist history that claimed these artifacts as tributes to “noble heritage” when they were really talismans of a war fought to preserve the right to enslave my ancestors.

Lee dragged that legacy above the Mason Dixon line and into the Bay State in 1968, the same year that Tennessee became forever known for something else — the place where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on a balcony in Memphis. And John Lee became the coach of the Walpole football team. Here he marshaled the troops much like General Robert E Lee, branding the school as home of the Rebels, and encouraging fans to wave Confederate flags and sing "Dixie." As Boston.com reported, a year after he arrived, Coach Lee told a reporter from The Boston Globe, “We used the Confederate flag and 'Dixie' as things to rally around.” The flag and the song were finally dropped by the mid-1990s, but the school clung to the Rebel name, claiming tradition despite objections to its racist history. But just last month, the Walpole School Committee voted overwhelmingly to drop the Rebels name with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bridget Gough noting, “the Rebel name will forever be linked to the Confederacy and racism.”

This small but significant move in Walpole is part of a much larger movement. What began as calls for long-term police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s killing has shifted to demands for the immediate dismantling of racist laws, customs and symbols, much of it linked to the Confederacy. I’ve watched the videos of street protestors defacing Confederate statutes and lifting others clean off their stone pedestals. And I can’t believe that after decades of debate, large numbers of Americans finally understand the truth of what they represent.

I could never have imagined a Mississippi that would step away from any of its Confederate history. Mississippi is the state where the too-many-to-count bodies of Black people have been uncovered in its rivers, where 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched with barbed wire around his neck, and where racial disparities in health and education exact another kind of devastating violence. But last week, the Republican controlled legislature in that Mississippi voted to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state’s flag — the last state to do so. Congressman Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s longest-serving Black lawmaker, tweeted, “I am looking forward to finally being able to fly a Mississippi state flag that represents all of us.”

I’ve been reminded many times in my life that timing is everything — how else to explain this time of a seemingly fast-moving tide of racial reckoning? Now, I know many will dismiss these moves to redress past harm as knee-jerk symbolic gestures. And that could be. But symbols tell the story of who we are and what we value. But how do we know who we are unless we examine the brutal history of a war fought to preserve enslavement? I don’t want to erase history. In fact, I look forward to the day when all Confederate-related relics reside in museums where they belong. But I’m not exhaling just yet.