As of June 30, 2020, the U.S. state of Mississippi has no official flag, following the retirement of the most recent version. The state has had two official flags in its history, and a process is currently underway to design a third. Other symbols used by the state include the seal and the coat of arms.
The first flag, known as the "Magnolia Flag", was adopted in 1861 and consisted of a "Flag of white ground, a magnolia tree in the centre, a blue field in the upper left hand corner with a white star in the centre, ... with a red border and a red fringe at the extremity of the Flag." The Magnolia Flag was declared to be "null and void" by a state constitutional convention in 1865 and the state was left without an official flag until the second one was adopted in 1894.
The second flag, designed by Edward N. Scudder and adopted in 1894, consisted of three equal horizontal tribands of blue, white, and red, with the canton of the Confederate battle flag. The thirteen stars on the state flag officially represented "the number of the original states of the Union," though they are sometimes thought to be for the states that seceded from the Union plus Missouri and Kentucky, which also had both Confederate and Union governing bodies. From 2003 to 2020, this was the only state flag to incorporate the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia into its design.[a] State legislators have proposed new flag designs omitting the Confederate symbols, especially following the Charleston church shooting and the killing of George Floyd.
During the George Floyd protests, Governor Tate Reeves stated that if the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill that weekend addressing the flag issue, he would sign it into law. Subsequently, on June 28, 2020, the Legislature passed a bill to repeal the sections of the Mississippi State Code which made provisions for a state flag, mandate the removal of the former flag from public buildings within 15 days of the bill's effective date, and establish a commission to design a replacement that would exclude the Confederate battle flag and include the U.S. national motto "In God We Trust". Reeves then signed it into law on June 30, 2020.
Before 1861, Mississippi lacked a flag. When the State Convention at the Capitol in Jackson declared its secession from the United States ("Union") on January 9, 1861, near the start of the American Civil War, spectators in the balcony handed a Bonnie Blue Flag down to the state convention delegates on the convention floor, and one was raised over the state capitol building in Jackson as a sign of independence. Later that night, residents of Jackson paraded through the streets under the banner. Harry McCarthy, an Irish singer and playwright who observed the street parade, was inspired to write the patriotic song "The Bonnie Blue Flag."
The first flag was known as the "Magnolia Flag." It was the official state flag from March 30, 1861, until August 22, 1865. On January 26, 1861, the delegates to the state convention approved the report of a special committee that had been appointed to design a coat of arms and "a suitable flag". The flag recommended by the committee was "A Flag of white ground, a magnolia tree in the centre, a blue field in the upper left hand corner with a white star in the centre, the Flag to be finished with a red border and a red fringe at the extremity of the Flag." Due to time constraints and the pressure to raise "means for the defense of the state," the delegates neglected to adopt the flag officially in January but did so when they reassembled in March 1861. The Magnolia Flag was not widely used during the war, as the various Confederate flags were displayed more frequently. Following the war's end, a state constitutional convention nullified many of the ordinances and resolutions passed by the State Convention of 1861. Among those nullified was the ordinance of March 1861 "to provide a Coat of Arms and Flag for the State of Mississippi,"
On February 7, 1894, the Legislature replaced the Civil War era Magnolia Flag with a new one designed by Edward N. Scudder, that incorporated the Confederate battle flag in its canton. This second state flag consisted of three equal horizontal tribands of blue, white, and red, with the canton of the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. The 13 stars on the state flag officially represented "the number of the original states of the Union"; though they are sometimes thought to have been for states that seceded from the Union, plus Missouri and Kentucky which had Union and Confederate governments.
The Mississippi Code of 1972, in Title 3, Chapter 3, described the flag as follows:
§ 3-3-16. Design of state flag. The official flag of the State of Mississippi shall have the following design: with width two-thirds (2/3) of its length; with the union (canton) to be square, in width two-thirds (2/3) of the width of the flag; the ground of the union to be red and a broad blue saltire thereon, bordered with white and emblazoned with thirteen (13) mullets or five-pointed stars, corresponding with the number of the original States of the Union; the field to be divided into three (3) bars of equal width, the upper one blue, the center one white, and the lower one, extending the whole length of the flag, red (the national colors); this being the flag adopted by the Mississippi Legislature in the 1894 Special Session.
In 1906, Mississippi adopted a revised legal code that repealed all general laws that were not reenacted by the legislature or brought forward in the new code. The legislature inadvertently omitted mention of the 1894 flag, leaving the state with no official state flag from 1906 to 2001; this was not discovered in Mississippi statute until the 21st century. In 2000, the Supreme Court of Mississippi confirmed that the state legislature had in 1906 repealed the 1894 adoption of the state flag; the flag used since then and considered official had actually only been customary or traditional.
In January 2001, then-Governor Ronnie Musgrove appointed an independent commission which developed a new proposed flag design. On April 17, 2001, a legally binding state referendum to change the flag was put before Mississippi voters by the legislature on recommendation of this commission.
The referendum, which asked voters if the new design prepared by the independent commission should be adopted, was defeated in a vote of 64% (488,630 votes) to 36% (267,812), and the 1894 state flag was retained. The proposed flag would have replaced the Confederate battle flag with a blue canton with 20 stars. The outer ring of 13 stars would represent the original Thirteen Colonies, the ring of six stars would represent the six nations that have had sovereignty over Mississippi Territory (various Native American nations as a collective nation, French Empire, Spanish Empire, Great Britain, the United States, and the Confederacy), and the inner and slightly larger star would represent Mississippi itself. The 20 stars would also represent Mississippi's status as the 20th member of the United States.
When Georgia adopted a new state flag in 2003, the Mississippi flag remained the only U.S. state flag to include the Confederate battle flag's saltire. In 2001 a survey conducted by the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) placed Mississippi's flag 22nd in design quality of the 72 Canadian provincial, U.S. state, and U.S. territorial flags ranked.
In the wake of the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, in which nine black parishioners of an Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were killed by Confederacy admirer and white supremacist Dylann Roof, there were renewed calls for Southern states to cease using the Confederate battle flag in official capacities. This extended to increased criticism of Mississippi's state flag. All eight public universities in Mississippi, along with "several cities and counties", including Biloxi, later refused to fly the state flag until the emblem is removed. The flag was excluded from displays of all 50 state flags in New Jersey, Oregon, and Philadelphia, leaving 49.
Over 20 flag-related bills, some calling for another statewide referendum, were introduced in the Legislature in 2015 and 2016, but none made it out of committee. A 2016 federal lawsuit alleging that the flag is tantamount to "state-sanctioned hate speech" was dismissed by both a district court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
An alternative was devised in 2014 by local artist Laurin Stennis, granddaughter of former U.S. senator John C. Stennis. Her proposal was originally dubbed the "Declare Mississippi" flag and has been popularly called the "Stennis Flag". Laurin Stennis' stated mission was to create "an image that would better capture our history and hopes without denying or romanticizing our past" and focus on HISTORY + HOPE + HOSPITALITY. In June 2020, Stennis stepped back from the effort to change the flag, citing potential harm associated with her last name, which she shares with her grandfather who was a segregationist for much of his career. Her design has since been renamed the "Hospitality flag".
The flag consists of a single blue star on a white field, an inversion of the white star on a blue field of the Bonnie Blue Flag. It is encircled by 19 smaller stars representing each state in the Union when Mississippi joined, as well as symbolizing "unity and continuity" drawing inspiration from the artifacts of the indigenous peoples of the region. The central white field represents "faith and possibility," and is flanked on each side by a vertical red bars, representing "the blood spilled by Mississippians, whether civilian or military, who have honorably given their lives in pursuit of liberty and justice for all." In an interview, Stennis said the red bars also stand for "Mississippians’ 'passionate differences' on the flag issue."
Since its inception, numerous bills have been brought before the Legislature to instate the Stennis Flag, but so far none has passed. On April 17, 2019, Mississippi governor Phil Bryant signed a new specialty license plates bill. One of the new specialty plates will include the Stennis Flag along with the phrase, "History + Hope + Hospitality". This was the first time that the Stennis flag's design received some form of state sanction by being used in an official capacity.
A flag was created by the Mississippi Economic Commission to celebrate the state's bicentennial in 2017. This flag consisted of a blue, white and red tricolor with the state seal centered on the white stripe. The flag also had the words "Established 1817" and "Bicentennial 2017" written on the white stripe on either side of the seal. This flag, without the wording, has been used as an alternative to the official state flag and has been suggested as a possible replacement for it. In late June 2020, former Governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, suggested using the bicentennial flag as a future state flag.  Following the retiring of the previous state flag on June 30, 2020, this banner has been used in some instances as a de facto placeholder.
On June 9, 2020 lawmakers gathered votes and started drafting legislation to change the state flag. The action came after weeks of national protests following the killing of George Floyd, including a protest outside the Mississippi Governor's Mansion on June 6. This was the first substantial action to change the state flag since the 2001 referendum. The proposed legislation would adopt Laurin Stennis's design as the Flag of Mississippi. With the support of Republican Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, lawmakers began to court Republican congress members to vote for the resolution. Speaker Gunn ensured that he would get the resolution passed through a House committee if verbal support from 30 Republicans was secured to go along with the 45 Democratic members of the House. An update on June 10 showed that lawmakers believed that they had secured at least 20 Republicans that were in favor of voting for the resolution to change the flag, while 20 more were on the fence. The lawmakers' goal was to secure at least 40 Republicans to go along with the 45 Democrats needed to suspend rules to allow a bill to be considered in the session. On June 11, Senate Democrats filed a resolution to change the state flag. On June 24, Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann announced his support for a new flag. Hosemann was joined by Attorney General Lynn Fitch, State Auditor Shad White, Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney. A vote that took place on June 27 suspended rules in the chambers to allow for legislators to debate and vote on a bill addressing the flag issue. At that time, there was no consensus on the method of changing the flag, whether it be retiring the current flag or immediately adopting another.
A proposal being floated by several members of the Legislature is to create a second Mississippi flag. This flag, with a yet-to-be-determined design that did not include any Confederate images, would be used alongside the current flag. This plan was soundly rejected by Governor Tate Reeves who compared it to the separate but equal doctrine, stating that if implemented it wouldn't "satisfy either side of this debate."
On June 18, 2020, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, Greg Sankey, announced the SEC would consider banning championship events in Mississippi until the flag is changed. The SEC is the athletic conference for the two largest universities in Mississippi, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. The announcement by the conference was followed by support of changing the flag from Chancellor Glenn Boyce of The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and President Mark E. Keenum of Mississippi State University. The athletic directors of the universities, Keith Carter (Ole Miss) and John Cohen (Mississippi State), also supported changing the flag, along with various coaches from the universities. On June 19, the NCAA banned all postseason play from occurring in Mississippi until the flag is changed. The NCAA had previously banned predetermined events such as football bowl games and men's basketball tournament games in 2001 from occurring in the state. The new rule also bans merit-based championship sites, such as baseball regionals, softball regionals, women's basketball tournament games and tennis tournament games. Ole Miss hosted both baseball and softball regionals in 2019. Mississippi State hosted a baseball regional, men’s tennis tournament games and women's basketball tournament games in 2019.
Also on June 19, the leaders of the eight public universities in Mississippi (Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi Valley State University, University of Mississippi and University of Southern Mississippi) issued a joint statement calling for a new state flag. On June 22, Conference USA banned all postseason play in Mississippi until the removal of the Confederate emblem from the state flag. Conference USA is home to the state's third largest university, Southern Miss, and has hosted its annual baseball tournament in Mississippi for eight of the past nine years. On June 23, presidents of the fifteen community colleges in Mississippi issued a joint statement showing their support for a new flag.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention condemned the current state flag on June 23, 2020. In a statement, Baptist leaders said, "The racial overtones of the flag's appearance make this discussion a moral issue. Since the principal teachings of Scripture are opposed to racism, a stand against such is a matter of biblical morality."
Retailer Walmart announced that it would cease displaying the state flag at its 85 Mississippi store locations on June 23, 2020. The retailer normally displays the applicable state flag alongside the U.S. national flag at its locations in the U.S.
On June 27, 2020, the Mississippi Legislature passed a resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 79, that suspended rules in the legislative chambers in order to debate and vote on a bill to remove and replace the state flag. The motion was passed with the House approving by a vote of 85–34 and the Senate approving by a vote of 36–14.
On June 28, 2020, the Legislature passed a bill, House Bill 1796, that would relinquish the state flag, remove the state flag from public buildings within 15 days of the bill's effective date, and constitute a nine-member commission to design a new flag that would be put to voters in a referendum to be held in November 2020. The bill required that the Confederate battle flag not be included on the proposed design, and the motto "In God We Trust" be included, as Georgia did when it removed the Confederate emblem from its state flag in 2003. In the House, the bill was passed by 91 in favor and 23 against. In the Senate, the bill was passed with 37 in favor and 14 against.
Governor Tate Reeves has stated that he will sign any flag bill passed by the state legislature into law. A spokesperson for the governor stated, "The governor does not want to rush this moment in history for our state. Once ... he's had the opportunity to review it, Gov. Reeves will sign the bill in the coming days." After the Mississippi Legislature passed the bill, Reeves signed it into law on June 30, 2020.
HISTORY: SOURCES: Laws, 2001, ch. 301, § 2, eff from and after February 7, 2001 (the date the United States Attorney General interposed no objection under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to the addition of this section.)
Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he’s against having two state flags — the current banner with the Confederate battle emblem that critics see as racist, and a yet-to-be-determined design that would erase Confederate images.
The Conference USA is taking a cue from the NCAA and SEC by prohibiting all postseason play from taking place in Mississippi until the Confederate emblem is removed from Mississippi's flag.
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