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Mississippians will soon vote on a new state flag
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The "In God We Trust" flag
MDAH

In five days, Mississippians will vote on the adoption of a new state flag. During this summer of unrest over racial injustice legislators passed a bill removing the old state flag containing a confederate emblem that many deem as racist.

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The now-retired 1894 flag flying outside the state Capitol

Mississippi's recently retired 1894 flag was the last in the nation to contain a confederate battle emblem. Democratic State Representative Robert Johnson of Natchez says the flag was a sign of oppression to him and many other black Mississippians. “Our flag had a message, and all my life it’s been a message. So, having a change and having a flag become something that I could wear, or I could put on my car, even at 61 years old it’s a brand new thing to me,” says Johnson.

Democratic Senator David Jordan of Greenwood is 87 years old and has served in the state legislature for almost 30 years.


"No one would want their face washed with 244 years of slavery, 100 years of the worst kind of discrimination, and about 50 years of 'knock-off freedom' as I put it" -Senator Jordan


He says the flag represents a dark past in the state consisting of slavery, discrimination, and 50 years of what he calls "knock-off freedom". He says “That symbol hurt Mississippi. Why is it so glorified that this state has innocent people for 244 years and still you want to fly something or put an image up that reminded them of how they were treated.”

The flag was adopted in 1894, nearly 20 years after the civil war, under the leadership of confederate veterans. The flag stood unopposed for nearly a century, and over the past 30 years, there have been 4 major efforts to remove it. In 2001, a referendum was placed on the ballot, and Mississippians voted 65-35 in favor of keeping the 1894 flag. But this summer, discussions of a flag change resurfaced.

“No justice, no peace” are the chants of protesters in Jackson.

At the start of this summer, protests were held around the nation, including Mississippi, in a fight against police brutality and racial injustice. Business leaders and religious organizations pressed legislators to remove the flag. The day after the NCAA prohibited championship games in the state because of the flag, athletic directors and coaches from every public university in Mississippi stood in the Capitol rotunda calling for change. Scott Waller, CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council, says the flag was driving away businesses and blocking others from coming in because of the flag's racist imagery. “It’s a factor. And having it removed, removed one more impediment that will allow us to start thinking about how do we focus on the opportunities of the future. And really and truly see the type of economic improvement that we have missed out on as a result of [the flag],” says Waller.


"People kept saying 'Well I think people's hearts changed.' I said no. Money changed. This was about to be a big and tremendous hit on the economy of Mississippi... Some of it was people's hearts, but most of it was people's pocketbooks."- Representative Johnson.


This pressure, along with discussions between legislators and advocates drew more support for changing the flag.

On Sunday, June 28, lawmakers in both the House and the Senate voted to remove the flag with a supermajority. The new legislation removed the existing flag and created a commission to find a new one requiring the phrase "In God We Trust" to be included in the final design.

A ceremony was held to officially retire the 1894 flag at the Museum of Mississippi History

Representative Robert Johnson says he counted the votes, and anticipated this outcome, but not by this large of a margin. “I didn’t think I’d be moved, but it moved me to know that that day had come,” says Johnson. “My children and their children could walk proudly as Mississippians with no symbols that harkened back to days when we were a state in rage and in terror. No matter what is happening now, that is not what we stood for anymore.”

Some Mississippians did not support this change and were opposed to legislators making this decision. Lee Anglada of Biloxi organized a protest outside of the Capitol as legislators cast their votes. He says he doesn't believe the flag is racist and says one of his relatives is buried in a confederate uniform.

Republican Senator Joey Fillingane of Sumrall voted against the bill. He says while campaigning, his supporters had repeatedly asked him about the flag issue. “There were some people who felt very strongly one way of keeping the old flag, and some people felt equally as strong to change it to something different. But almost universally the people I spoke with in my district felt like whether they wanted to keep it or change it, the decision ought to be theirs and not something that we in the legislature decided for them,” says Fillingane.

The 1894 flag was officially retired on July 1st and was placed on display at the Museum of Mississippi History. Republican Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn spoke at the event saying “Today marks a turning point in our state’s history. Today we retire our former flag and begin the process of adopting a new flag.”


"Today we retire our former flag and begin the process of adopting a new flag"


How the flag will appear on the statewide ballot

During the following weeks, the nine-member flag commission received thousands of submissions for a new flag design. The flag selected by the commission to appear on the November ballot was renamed the "In God We Trust Flag." The design has a magnolia flower surrounded by 21 stars on a blue background with red and gold columns. It has a star in the center representing the first nations.

Justice Reuben Anderson chaired the flag commission. He was the first African American to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court. He says “5000 years from now, our flag will be growing and showing and blooming. And we’ll send a message to all of America that we are open for business. We’ll send a message that we live in the future and not in the past.”


"We’ll send a message that we live in the future and not in the past.”


The "In God We Trust Flag" will appear in full color on Tuesday's statewide ballot. If adopted, it will become the official state flag. But if the majority of Mississippians vote no, the flag commission must reconvene and begin the search process once more.

For more information about the upcoming ballot, visit MPB's election page.