Last November we wrote about the Flag for All Mississippians Coalition (NewMSFlag.org) and contentious efforts underway in the Magnolia State to change the current state flag, the only state flag to include the Confederate battle flag. Here is an update.
The NewMSFlag people are currently collecting signatures to qualify The Flag for All Mississippians Act as Initiative 55 on the November 2018 [!] ballot. This would add the following to the state constitution: “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.” (It does not propose a new flag, but forces the creation and adoption of one by making the current flag unconstitutional.) In addition to the coalition’s founder, Sharon C. Brown, two Baptist pastors express their support on the initiative’s page on Ballotpedia.
According to Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s website, in opposition to Initiative 55 there are five anti-flag-change initiatives also seeking to be qualified for a future ballot. Initiative 21, Initiative 46, Initiative 54, Initiative 56, and Initiative 58 would all amend the state constitution to define the state flag as the current state flag (adopted 1894).
Of these, Initiative 46 “State Heritage” is most colorful and expansive. In addition to flag-related declarations, it defines the state to be “principally Christian and quintessentially Southern”, makes English the official language (making an exception for “Latin or French” for heraldry purposes), requires the state song “Dixie” (or “Go, Mississippi”) to be played immediately after the national anthem, defines “Colonel Reb” and “Bully” (the Bulldog) to be the official mascots of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, respectively, designates April to be “Confederate Heritage Month”, and nullifies the repeal of an article in the constitution that had changed “borders and boundaries” of the state. Sections III and XI deal with flags:
The state flag of Mississippi shall be the state flag adopted in 1894, which has been in continuous use since 1894, and which was confirmed by statewide vote in 2001. The state flag of Mississippi shall be displayed in front of all public buildings, including but not limited to all state, county, and municipal buildings and any school receiving state funding. Wherever the national flag is displayed on public land or in public buildings, a state flag of equal size shall also be displayed. In Mississippi public schools and other public institutions, whenever the pledge of allegiance to the national flag is recited, the state flag salute shall be recited immediately thereafter. The state flag salute shall be: “I salute the flag of Mississippi and the sovereign [sic] state for which it stands with pride in her history and achievements and with confidence in her future under the guidance of Almighty God.” [Section III]
In honor of the Mississippians who served under this military flag, the Confederate Battle Flag, measuring at minimum four feet by four feet, shall be permanently displayed on a flag-pole directly behind and above the monument to Confederate women on the state capitol’s exterior grounds. The right to place and display flags at veterans’ graves shall not be infringed. Within Mississippi, all publicly owned, publicly held, or publicly managed Confederate or Confederate-themed items, including but not limited to monuments, statues, works of art, relics, markers, signs, names, titles, structures, roads, parks, graves, and cemeteries shall be preserved and maintained by the state government, which may delegate applicable duties to the respective counties or municipalities for this purpose; for all cases in which said items were renamed, the more historical name shall take precedence and be reestablished in full. [Section XI]
The Jackson Free Press reports that in the state legislature there is a proposal to de-fund any university or state government that refuses to fly the existing state flag (as several have done). The same article reports a proposal by Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden (presumably no relation to Edward) for the state to have two state flags, one with the battle flag and one without — which has raised some eyebrows with its echo of the infamous “separate but equal”. (This backs down from Snowden’s statement in June: “I believe any state flag should be a common symbol citizens can unite behind and proudly embrace as their own. If our flag is no longer useful for those purposes (to instill pride and unity across the broad spectrum of citizens), then we should reconsider its current status.”)
Finally, on a more constructive note, artist Laurin Stennis, the granddaughter of segregationist Senator John C. Stennis (1901-1995), has proposed a new design for the state flag.
Nineteen small blue stars with one large star in the center represents Mississippi as the twentieth state to join the Union. The small stars form a circle, a shape that represents wholeness, unity, and potential. Red bars stand opposite one another, recognizing the passionate differences we sometimes harbor. Joining all elements is a field of white symbolizing illumination, spirituality, brightness and promise.
The symbolism is quite unusual for representing and respecting disharmony, the “passionate differences we sometimes harbor”.
Stennis’ design is (unintentionally) similar to that of the Canadian flag:
And this flag, in turn, can be imagined as two faces arguing!