The state’s “New Magnolia” flag will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, while voters unravel its design elements and their feelings on the change.
The design, chosen from around 3,000 submissions, features a magnolia blossom, 21 stars, and the motto “In God We Trust” on a dark blue field with gold- and red-bordered sides.
When the state commissioned the new flag, the only criteria were that it must contain the motto and it could not feature elements of the Confederate battle flag, as the previous Mississippi flag did.
Controversy associated with the Confederate flag spurred the Legislature’s vote to remove the previous state flag, which was originally adopted in 1894.
Loss of state history concerns Janice Fortenberry, who was previous regent of the Judith Robinson Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution, which serves Pike, Amite and Walthall counties.
The preservation of history is a tenet of DAR.
“Because of that, I’m personally opposed to cancel culture, where we remove historic statues and so forth just because we disagree with a period of history,” Fortenberry said.
“Every period of history has lessons for us, and if we try to obliterate that history we’re not going to learn the lessons of that period, and we’re prone to repeat it.”
However, Fortenberry said she also understands the reasoning behind the desire for the change, though she believes it stems somewhat from hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan that used the Confederate battle flag.
“The problem with the Mississippi state flag as it was is that battle flag had become associated with white supremacist groups,” she said.
“I think anybody who hopes to see the South progress realizes that we can’t divorce ourselves from the history of the South, but by the same token, we can’t glorify something that in many people’s eyes depicts racism. We can’t expect businesses to come to Mississippi if we are in fact doing that. So I am in favor of the new flag.”
Jonathan Scott of Magnolia, a recent graduate of Mississippi College, supports the change and feels that it was overdue. He plans to vote in favor of the new design.
“I think it’s a nice design, and it’s really good that they finally decided to remove the Confederate flag from the state flag. It represents a lot of progress,” said Scott, who is Black.
“It definitely shows that the collective conscience of Mississippi has grown over the last several decades, which should happen, and this is a positive change.”
He likes that the new design maintains a red and blue U.S. patriotic motif while incorporating Mississippi’s state flower.
According to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the blue in the main field echoes the American flag’s blue, representing vigilance, justice and perseverance, while the red stands for hardiness and valor.
Scott said he knows some have an issue with the inclusion of the text “In God We Trust.”
“I mean, it’s on our money, so I don’t see a problem with that. It’s only a problem if people make it one. I definitely don’t think it’s as much of a problem as a flag that promotes slavery,” he said.
Fortenberry preferred a design that wasn’t too different from the chosen design and included the shape of the state’s western border, but she does prefer the New Magnolia design to the shield design it was up against in a recent poll.
As a lifelong Mississippian, Fortenberry lamented some of the preconceived notions about the South that she has encountered around the U.S.
“Maybe finally we’ll have an opportunity to put our best attributes forward, to glorify the best in the state rather than being burdened by something that has this racist connotation,” she said.
“I’m a proud Mississippian. It hurts me that in the past we have projected an image of clinging to a period in which people were oppressed. What we ought to be projecting is the wonderful writers that have come out of Mississippi, the birth of the blues and country music.”
The gold lines on the new flag, which match the gold stamen of the magnolia in the center, seek to do just that.
“(They) are a nod to the rich cultural history of Mississippi, specifically the visual arts, literature, music, and performing arts to originate in our state,” said a statement from Michael Morris, spokesperson for the Department of Archives and History.
That color choice is a sticking point for Southwest Mississippi Community College art instructor Prudence McGehee.
“I don’t really care for the yellow on it. I think it detracts from the overall design. You see that before you see anything else. That’s the first thing my eye goes to, is those yellow stripes,” McGehee said.
Aside from that, she likes the flag and sees it as well-designed in its relative simplicity and in being uniquely Mississippi.
“You want to remember this is going to be up on a flagpole flying, so you don’t want it cluttered. You just want a simple, basic, clear design,” she said.
Above the magnolia blossom, a star made of five gold diamonds represents the Native American residents who inhabited the land before European settlers.
The 20 white stars surrounding the blossom on the proposed flag represent Mississippi being the 20th state admitted to the U.S.
McGehee thinks they could make the flag a more difficult art project for students — “Stars are hard to draw,” she said — but still thinks the design serves educational goals well.
The magnolia itself symbolizes Mississippians’ hospitality.
According to Morris’ description, the proposed flag in particular symbolizes the state’s “sense of hope and rebirth, as the Magnolia often blooms more than once and has a long blooming season.”