On Sunday, Mississippi’s house and senate voted by wide margins to replace the state’s 126-year-old flag, whose design referenced the Confederate battle flag. With Governor Tate Reeves’s pledged support, voters will decide on a redesigned flag in November.
Mississippi’s is the last state flag in the country to feature the cross-and-stars battle emblem, a vexillological choice popular in the South during the height of its “Lost Cause” dysphoria. With protesters in 2020 taking aim at other remnants of this era (namely, certain statues, but also high schools’ names and textbook portrayals of the past), what’s most surprising to learn with these calls for a flag re-haul is that, in 2001, Mississippian voters decided 2–1 to keep the current design.
The redesign will follow two stipulations, one of which is that it must not bear the aforementioned Confederate symblory. The other is that somewhere on the flag will be the phrase “In God We Trust”. — Now, far be it from me to dictate how any state should chose to express its piety, but as someone who has studied good flag design, I would recommend the legislature reconsider putting words — of any kind — on their new flag. Having to resort to words on something as symbolic as a flag shows a lack of creativity and a disregard for the possible visual narrative.
Instead of requiring this phrase and referring to a committee for the new design (as the state seems apt to do), I would put the redesign out to the public and see what good ideas come from it (that’s how Alaska got its great flag, after all). Moreover, if I were one of Mississippi’s state legislators, I would take this chance to really consider what kind of flag would most succinctly symbolise my state and what kinds of feelings/images/thoughts I want people to conjure up when they see this flag — that’s the point of any symbol, isn’t it?
Below is a compilation of redesigns for the Mississippi flag that would make better impressions than the current (and planned) designs:
The Hospitality/Stennis Flag
The first flag up for consideration was designed by Laurin Stennis, granddaughter of U.S. Senator from Mississippi John C. Stennis. Ms. Stennis was inspired to revamp her home state’s flag well before the George Floyd protests erupted, yet her design choices rest in recognition of the aims of today’s movement.
For one, the large star in the centre is a reference to the Bonnie Blue design that flew over early secessionist Mississippi, with the important distinction that the colours of this star and its background are inverted — a reversal of the ways of the past. The twenty stars together symbolise Mississippi’s status as the twentieth state to join the U.S., placing it in the context of its current union, rather than that of its failed nineteenth-century alliance. The official website sponsoring the Hospitality flag describes many of Ms. Stennis’s other design intentions, such as evoking “bipartisanship” (in red Mississippi, no less).
Considering this design has been around for a few years, and because it was created by the kin of a late senator, it’s gotten its share of press and good tidings locally. It’s shown up in bills from previous statehouse sessions looking to change the current flag’s design and can now be displayed on official licence plates. One Reddit user was adamant enough about the Stennis design to create a version that adheres to the new “In God We Trust” rule.
Despite its relative popularity, this design has not gone without controversy. Because Ms. Stennis is the granddaughter of a segregationist lawmaker who worked against the Civil Rights movement for much of his career, it became apparent within the last month that the group promoting her redesign could not meet the moment while pushing this new flag under her name. Thus, in a recent tweet, Ms. Stennis removed her attribution within the flag’s name, instead re-branding her creation the “Hospitality flag”. A more welcoming name, yes, though it’s indicative of how steeped the history of Mississippi is in racism that even attempts to dismantle images of the Confederacy can be spearheaded by someone whose influence derives from a forebear’s promotion of white supremacy.
The Mitchell Flag
Our next flag redesign comes from Ed Mitchell, who recreated Mississippi’s flag as well as the flags of the other forty-nine states as part of a larger project to assimilate their designs into a cohesive national narrative. For Mr. Mitchell, the goal of the state flags should be to show streamlined solidarity while representing local flavour within the confines of red, white, and blue.
Besides removing the more obvious Confederate symblory, this design is simple and elegant in its execution of Mississippian uniqueness. However, the reason this design still evokes Mississippi is because it references the “Stars and Bars”, the first “official” flag of the Confederacy, with its canton and three horizontal stripes. Furthermore, the Bonnie Blue star makes a reappearance in the upper-left corner without the Stennis commentary on reversing its racist past. I also get strong Texas vibes from this flag.
Still, Mr. Mitchell’s overarching concept of state-flag sameness (which reminds me of the flow of Japanese provincial and city flags) is an imaginative avenue to pave in our hostile times. — It probably wouldn’t save the Union, but Kyle Vanhemert of Wired did consider the idea in a piece from 2013.
The “WichealCrow” Flag
Reddit user WichealCrow debuted this design earlier in the week, when the Mississippi legislature had yet to vote on the now-passed flag bill. It is one of many proposals floating around on the Vexillology subreddit that feature proposals made by fans of good flag-design.
What I like about WichealCrow’s design is that it alludes to something that few other redesigns of the Mississippi flag bring up: the Mississippi River. The river is internationally known for its length and is the traditional divider between the east and west in the U.S., so why not include it in the flag of the state whose name is derived from it? I’ll admit this design overall perhaps isn’t the most striking of those collected here and could stand a touch-up, yet it is helpful in understanding why it would feel like a missed opportunity to not bring up the river in a new flag design.
The “Bmoxey” Flag
Here’s a flag that’s held up to competition. Created by Reddit user Bmoxey, this redesign of Mississppi’s flag features a magnolia, the state flower and source of the state nickname. It won a contest last year among Reddit users for best state flag redesign.
The Bmoxley design shares the simplicity of the first two designs while more completely erasing the traditional Confederate symblory. It also puts in focus the magnolia, something that makes Mississippi unique and recognisable to people inside and outside the state. However, we still have that Bonnie Blue star, and even the symbolism of the magnolia isn’t perfect, as I’ll discuss in our next entry.
The Ritz Flag
Possibly my favourite redesign if just for its singularity, this flag is an edit of the banners created by graphic designer Tim Ritz and was found on the Vexillology Fandom page. Not only would the colours be unique among state flags, but they bring out images of Mississippi — the magnolia, the blue of the river — without the overt racism.
The problem with this design — indeed, any design with the magnolia — is that it again is an allusion to another Civil War-era flag: this time, the Magnolia flag, which flew over Mississippi alongside the Bonnie Blue in 1861. While this earlier design displayed a tree rather than the flower itself, the magnolia was nonetheless cherished during Mississippi’s secession and is the reason Ms. Laurin Stennis opted to not use it in her own redesign.
I had fun searching Reddit and looking through some more “realistic” designs that include the newly-stipulated “In God We Trust”. While any of the discussed designs would be better for Mississippi than slapping the national motto onto cloth, we must remember that the proposed rework (even if it breaks a cardinal sin of flag-design) will serve and represent the people of the state better than the present flag, an unsubtle homage to white supremacy in a state that was once majority-Black.
The issue with all these redesigns, unfortunately, is the issue with the present flag: Confederate “heritage” has overtaken Mississippi’s image of itself to the point that trying to find any other way to represent the state exposes the ways the myth of the Lost Cause and the remnants of slavery have infiltrated the popular narrative. I urge the Mississippi legislature to continue to reassess its state’s history with racist, anti-American images and attitudes long after they begin sitting under a new banner.