OPINION: Is Mississippi in need of a flag change?

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Since Mississippi first became a state in 1817, we have had three different state flags.  The original unofficial design, the “Bonnie Blue Flag,” was adopted from the period when Mississippi was a part of the territory of West Florida and was liberated from Spanish rule.

The Bonnie Blue Flag features a white star in the center of a solid blue field.  The white star represents purity, and the blue field stands for truth. It was displayed by many Mississippians in 1861 when the state seceded from the United States as a call back to independence from Spanish rule.

Later that same year, the Mississippi legislature wanted to create a new flag that was unique to our state; they designed the “Magnolia Flag.”  This flag features a Magnolia tree in the center of a white field.  In the top left corner is a smaller Bonnie Blue Flag.  The magnolia is a  symbol of Mississippi, and the Bonnie Blue Flag in the corner represents the state’s origins.  Some versions of the Magnolia Flag include a red border or bar on the right hand side.

The Magnolia flag was the Mississippi state flag through the Civil War, up until 1894, nearly 30 years after the Civil War ended, which included the Reconstruction period, and the so-called “Redemption Period,” when laws were enacted to reverse many rights granted to freed slaves after the Civil War.  At that time, with concerns about the treatment of aging Civil War veterans becoming a major political issue, Governor John Marshall Stone asked the Mississippi legislature to design a flag showing the state’s pride.  It would not relate to the strides made by many African American Mississippians during Reconstruction.  This is our third, and current, flag.

Graphic by Alex Roberson
The 1817, 1861, and 1894 flags of the state of Mississippi. Debate about the current flag continues.

This flag features a blue, white, and red horizontal stripe and the confederate battle flag (also commonly referred to as “Beauregard’s Flag” or “Stars and Bars”) as a canton in the upper left hand corner.  The three stripes represent our nation and call to the American flag.  The battle flag canton was originally meant to symbolize the southern states with a romanticized view of the Civil War and those who fought in it, similarly to how the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag represents the original thirteen colonies and patriotism.

Although controversy has surrounded our third state flag since it was initially proposed, with legislators worried about how it would affect our image, the flag has faced vastly increasing opposition since the late 1950’s and early 60’s onward when Stars and Bars became co-opted by anti-integration white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

Over time, the Stars and Bars ceased to represent Southern states, and come to only represent those groups opposing the civil rights movement.  Since the 60’s, there have been many proposals to change our state flag to something without Stars and Bars to disassociate us Mississippians from the white supremacists groups most associated with the flag.  Opponents to change argue that the flag originally didn’t mean those things.  What should we do?

We should change our flag.  We’ve done it twice before, and there’s no reason why we can’t do it again.  At the end of the day, no matter what it was originally intended to represent, Stars and Bars symbolizes white supremacy and the KKK, things that do not reflect the views of our state.  When we allow white supremacy to live on our state flag, we inadvertently condone it, whether we want to or not.

If you are someone who opposes change to the Mississippi state flag out of respect for our state’s honored citizens who fought and died in the Civil War, continue to recognize and respect that history but don’t allow that historical perspective to cloud your judgment about what the upper left hand canton means today.