Mississippians will vote in a week on a new state flag design, and they will carry a spectrum of feelings on the flag into the booth with them.
Some are displeased to see the removal of the old flag, part of which featured the Confederate battle emblem, while others are glad to see the change. Some are bitter about how it was handled.
“I think the public should’ve voted on it,” said Shelly Sterling of the Busy Corner community in Amite County. “The public opinion doesn’t matter anymore. Until the public voted to change it, it should’ve stayed.”
Sterling is a housewife whose kids attend Amite School Center, a private school where the Confederate flag is painted in the gym and “Dixie” is heard at every football game.
Proud of her state heritage, she has the old Mississippi flag flying in her yard, and she bought three more when she heard about the change, in case she won’t be able to find it anymore.
She feels there are misconceptions about the flag and the South in general.
“It’s not all about slavery, and that’s the bottom line,” Sterling said.
The new flag swaps the Confederate emblem for a magnolia blossom, 21 stars and the motto “In God We Trust.”
Jonathan Scott, a Black resident of Magnolia and recent graduate of Mississippi College, said that having a religious motto is better than having an emblem that for many symbolizes slavery, not heritage.
Scott voted early and cast a vote in support of the new flag design.
“At this point, if people are opposed to the new flag on the basis of being in support of the old one, that’s kind of void now. The other flag has been taken down,” he said.
If the magnolia flag fails this November, it’ll be back to the drawing board for the flag commission, not back to the old flag.
State Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, did not support the change on the basis that when put to a public vote in 2001, it failed.
“I voted against changing the state flag,” Mims said. “The vote was taken and the process will continue.”
While he did not comment on how he plans to vote on the new design, Mims would’ve liked for voters to have the chance to vote on more than one option.
“There were several different talks about changing the flag,” he said. “Many people across the country out of Mississippi voiced their opinion to me. There were a lot of people in southwest Mississippi that did not want to change that flag.”
For Kim Egan of Jayess, the old flag is not part of her heritage. A transplant from Connecticut, she doesn’t have history with it. She still doesn’t like the change.
“I moved away to the South to get away from the liberal North, but it looks like it followed us down here,” she said.
“What was done with the flag was just unconscionable. It wasn’t brought to a vote of the people of the state. We should not have had that choice forced upon us just so people could pander to an organization that’s rioting in the streets.”
Egan is a retiree and has lived in Mississippi since 2006.
She doesn’t like any of the new designs and feels none incorporated anything of historical value to the state.
“I’m very disappointed in the state of Mississippi,” she said. “I can’t wait to be given the opportunity to vote out some of the cowards.”
The change has been a long time coming for Mamie Kettle, director of the McComb NAACP. A member since 1993, Kettle remembers years of work trying to get the flag changed.
“I believe in taking a step toward something that’s going to relieve some of the heartache and pain. We know that the current flag has caused so many races, especially the African American race, so much hardship,” Kettle said.
Despite some groups finding fault in it, she feels the change is good.
“To be able to say I’m in the generation where we’re getting a new flag, I’m honored to be part of this movement,” she said. “You see the flower like a breath of fresh air when you see the magnolia flower on there. Every time a new flower blossoms, that means another season is coming.”
It isn’t a personal issue for Caroline Bates, a University of Mississippi Medical Center nursing student, but she feels it is an important issue.
“I will vote for the new flag,” Bates said. “The old one doesn’t really bother me. If it is causing issues, it definitely needs to change.”