The Mississippi Commission to Redesign the State Flag was established to choose a new state flag for Mississippi, a state in the United States, following state and national pressures to replace the former state flag, which featured the Confederate battle emblem.
Problems and Purpose
The Mississippi State Legislature called for a commission to be formed to redesign the Mississippi state flag in response to state and nation-wide pressure to take down the old state flag because it featured the confederate battle emblem. Per the legislation that established the commission, there were two criteria for a new flag design: it must include the phrase “In God We Trust” and must not include the design of the Confederate battle flag. The bill that established the commission called for it to hold meetings to discuss flag design options, receive public feedback on designs, and choose a design to be placed on the ballot for Mississippi voters during the 2020 election.
Background History and Context
The debate to replace Mississippi’s state flag, featuring the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner, has occurred for decades. In 2001, Mississippi held a referendum vote for Mississippi voters to decide whether or not to replace the flag . The results were an overwhelming “yes” to keep the flag as it was. However, beginning in 2015, institutions of higher learning in the state made independent decisions to not fly the state flag on their campuses. By the end of August 2016, seven of the eight public universities in Mississippi had decided to take the flag down, due primarily to pressure from student governance groups .
The push to replace the 1894 flag intensified this summer in light of the Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place across the country. Public figures and organizations involved in Mississippi called on the state legislature to change the flag, including athletes and coaches at state universities, professional associations, and most notably the NCAA . Both Republican-dominated chambers of the legislature voted with supermajorities to retire the 1894 flag . On June 30, 2020, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed into law legislation to replace the Mississippi state flag .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Mississippi House Bill 1796 established the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag to lead the process of choosing a new state flag . The Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) provided clerical support for the flag redesign process, and a vexillologist was contracted to assist the commission in debating flags . MDAH also organized the process of accepting flag designs from the public and provided online polling for the public between each round of voting, as the commission narrowed down the options.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
HB 1796 stated that the Speaker of the House, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor would each be able to appoint three members to the commission. The Speaker and Lieutenant Governor were free to choose whomever they wished, but the Governor was legislated specifically to choose one person from the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the board of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. House Speaker Philip Gunn chose Oxford, Mississippi Mayor Robyn Tannehill, the President of Gulf Coast Community College Mary Graham, and his legislative director TJ Taylor . Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann chose former Mississippi State Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson, Vicksburg, Mississippi Attorney J. Mack Varner, and the Community Relations Liaison at Singing River Health System Sherri Carr Bevis . Governor Tate Reeves chose the chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Cyrus Ben, Union County Heritage Board Member Betsey Hamilton, and an insurance company vice president Frank Bordeaux .
The general public was also engaged in this process. Flag designs were submitted by ordinary citizens, the public participated in non-randomized, informal opinion polling on different flag designs throughout the process on the MDAH website. There was no sampling strategy used in this polling, as the polls were accessible to anyone on the website. There were also social media campaigns for flag designs managed by citizens.
Methods and Tools Used
The commission to redesign the state flag was a group of nine individuals from different parts of Mississippi. Each of them have unique career backgrounds, and the commission is racially proportional to the population of the state . Using their own experiences and values, the commission received and reviewed the flag designs submitted by the public. State flag designs were gathered via crowdsourcing from the general public. MDAH facilitated each commission meeting, laying out expectations for the commission and the timeline of this process. They administered online polls to gather public opinion on the flag designs that had been chosen to move to the next round and shared those poll results with the commission .
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Once the commission was established, MDAH began accepting flag designs from the public at the end of July 2020. MDAH publicized the requirements for the new flag, which, per the legislation that retired the 1894 flag, had to include the words “In God We Trust” on the design . Flag designs could also not feature the Confederate battle emblem . More than 2,000 designs were submitted, and each commission member was tasked with selecting their top 25 favorite designs, using software administered by MDAH, by August 7, 2020 . From there, the commission met to discuss their choices, and after that meeting, each commission member ranked their top ten choices . The commission then met again on August 14, 2020 to review their top ten design choices, and following that discussion, to name a collective top five flag designs to be presented to the public for consideration . From there, on August 25, 2020, the commission narrowed it to two flags and allowed the public to vote in the MDAH poll . There was much public discussion of flag designs on social media, and some flag designs created social media accounts to share the story behind the flag . The Great River Flag, which was the runner up to the chosen design, used social media to demonstrate the versatility of the flag, showing examples of how its symbols could be used in tourism marketing, on athletic apparel for state universities, and other state initiatives . They then selected the final design on September 2, 2020, which received more than 60% of the votes in MDAH’s final poll .
The final design, called the “In God We Trust” flag, features a magnolia flower, the state flower, in the center surrounded by twenty white stars, representing Mississippi being the 20th state in the Union, arranged in a ring around it with a gold star, representing the indigenous tribes in Mississippi, in the top center of the ring of stars, all in front of a blue background. To the right and left of the blue on the flag are one gold and one red vertical stripe on each side . The commission broadcast its final meeting on the MDAH Facebook page for the public to watch the final decision being made.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The commission’s chosen flag design appeared on the ballot in Mississippi during the 2020 elections. HB 1789 required a public vote on the new flag design before it would be designated as the official flag of the state of Mississippi . The final design met the requirements established in the bill. The flag design was approved, with more than 72% of Mississippi voters voting “yes” . The bill also stipulates that if the design were not approved by Mississippi voters, the commission would have reconvened to repeat the process to offer a new flag design to be placed on a ballot for a special election .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
This commission operated efficiently and effectively. From being assembled in mid-July to providing the final flag design to be voted on at the beginning of September, the commission was able to sort through thousands of submissions while engaging one another in meetings and the public via online polling. They chose a flag with deep symbolism that pays respect to the Native Americans that inhabited the state before settlers arrived and the natural landscape of the state . Before the final design was chosen on September 2, 2020, commission member and Oxford, Mississippi Mayor Robyn Tannehill requested a formal, statewide poll of Mississippi voters be conducted to empirically gauge Mississippians’ preference on the final two flag designs; however, due to time constraints for getting the flag design on the ballot, this was not possible . Governor Tate Reeves’ was pleased with the overall process and outcome of the commission’s work, having said “‘I think they did a good job…a well done flag’” after the final flag design was announced .