According to its designer the state flag of Mississippi includes the Confederate battle flag in order to “perpetuate in a legal and lasting way that dear battle flag under which so many of our people had so gloriously fought”. Dating back to 1894, the design has certainly lasted — 121 years so far.
In the widespread backlash against Confederate imagery following the massacre of six black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina this summer, Mississippi’s flag has attracted significant negative attention. State House Speaker Philip Gunn and US Senator Roger Wicker, both prominent Republicans, have publicly endorsed removing the Confederate cross from the flag, and last month the University of Mississippi at Oxford and all campuses of the University of Southern Mississippi have removed the flag from official display.
A New York Times article recently assessed the uphill fight opponents of the flag will need to win in order to redesign the state flag. According to the article, the flag remains popular but divisive. A 2001 referendum to change it was defeated after being opposed by 90 percent of whites, despite its support by 95 percent of blacks (these numbers from the 2006 book Mississippi Politics); without substantial change by Mississippi’s whites, a new referendum would likely suffer the same fate:
If a new flag is to be adopted, the simple math of a 60 percent white majority statewide dictates that it will come down to whether enough whites support it, either in the Legislature or at the polls. Feelings about the flag run so deep — as evident from the recent arrest of a man in Tupelo who was accused of firebombing a Walmart for not selling Confederate merchandise — that a widespread change of heart seems hard to fathom. (from Mississippi Flag, a Rebel Holdout, Is in a New Fight, Campbell Robertson, NY Times).
Nevertheless, the Flag for All Mississippians Coalition (NewMSFlag.org) is moving forward with a campaign to amend the state constitution with this text: The flag of the State of Mississippi shall not contain or include any reference to the Confederate army’s battle flag or to the Confederacy.
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger found in a recent poll of 1500 readers that 45% supported the current flag, 24% the Magnolia flag of 1861, 12% the 2001 proposal, 9% the “Bonnie Blue” flag, and 10% “something else”. Though a popular alternative, the Magnolia flag is hardly free on Confederate symbolism, as it was a symbol of secessionist Mississippi and used by the United Confederate Veterans of the state. In an excellent article on the history of the Mississippi flag in the Jackson Free Press, Arielle Dreher points out that the Magnolia flag was banned by the US government in 1865 as a “symbol of treason”.
In terms of what “something else” might look like, the Clarion-Ledger invited readers to submit designs and selected 10 of them for (currently open) online polling.
For many more proposed redesigns of the Mississippi state flag, check out the Jackson Free Press #MSFlagDIY project.