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Magnolias, Beer Cans and Football: Mississippi Is Designing A New State Flag

Aug 6, 2020

After Mississippi lawmakers voted in June to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state's flag, they asked people to send in designs for a new flag — and received nearly 3,000 submissions.

There are some ground rules for the new design: It can't include the Confederate battle flag and it must include the words "In God We Trust." A nine-member commission will review the designs and pick one for voters to approve in November. If the voters decide against the submission, the entire process starts over again.

Most of the designs "are leaning towards the state flower, which is the magnolia, but we got some beer cans and a lot of other football items," says Reuben Anderson, the chair of the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag. "But overall it's coming along."

This isn't the first time the state has tried to change the flag. In 2001, Mississippians were presented with an alternate design — but instead voted to keep the flag as it was.

"In 2001, we had an election on whether or not to take the flag down, and we lost substantially, and it was a lot of negativity in the sense that people were hostile and mad about the effort to take the flag down," says Anderson, who was also the first Black justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court.

"But this time around it just seems like people are looking forward to what we'll have as a new flag and not what we are dealing with in the old flag."

Reuben Anderson (left), former Mississippi Supreme Court justice, hands the Mississippi state flag to Pamela Junior, director of the Two Mississippi Museums, in Jackson, Miss., on July 1, after a bill was signed into law that would replace the state flag that includes a Confederate emblem.
Suzi Altman / Reuters

The move comes as Confederate emblems and monuments across the country are being banned, removed and transformed, sparked by protests and demonstrations for racial justice.

Protesters toppled a statue of Confederate Gen. Albert Pike in Washington, D.C., NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at all of its events, and several statues of Confederate generals were removed in Richmond, Va., among other instances.

"We should not be under any illusion that a vote in the Capitol is the end of what must be done — the job before us is to bring the state together and I intend to work night and day to do it," Republican Gov. Tate Reeves wrote on Facebook on June 27 before signing the measure to redesign the Mississippi state flag without the Confederate battle flag. "It will be harder than recovering from tornadoes, harder than historic floods, harder than agency corruption, or prison riots or the coming hurricane season — even harder than battling the Coronavirus."

Anderson says that to him, the former flag was "just a complete sign that you were not welcome," and that many people in Mississippi see it as a reminder of slavery in the state — and that the present is not that far removed from the past.

"I grew up in Mississippi in the '40s and '50s and I've been challenged by that flag most of my life," Anderson tells NPR's Stacey Vanek Smith. "This flag has been a challenge to 40% of the people of Mississippi for a long time."

Now, he says, there's no specific design that he likes best. He's just excited that there will be a new flag — something he never thought would happen in his lifetime.

"When we took down that flag, that was a pleasing moment for me," Anderson says. "So, anything new is a thrill."

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STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

Mississippi currently has no state flag. The former flag was retired earlier this summer after nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd. Mississippi was the only state left that still had the Confederate battle flag emblem. To find a new flag for the state, Mississippi asked people to submit designs. Nearly 3,000 submissions were turned in, and now a state commission will review the designs and pick one for voters to approve in November. Reuben Anderson is the chair of the commission to redesign the Mississippi state flag. He joins us now.

Welcome.

REUBEN ANDERSON: Welcome to you.

VANEK SMITH: So you are a lifelong Mississippian. You were the first Black judge appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. How does it feel to see this flag being retired?

ANDERSON: Well, I guess I would say I grew up in Mississippi in the '40s and '50s, and I've kind of been challenged by that flag most of my life, this flag has been a challenge to 40% of the people of Mississippi for a long time. It's been a thrill for me. I never thought it would have happened in my lifetime. This flag has not only been a hindrance for the state, particularly in economic development - people don't realize that when people look at locating and relocating and expanding businesses in Mississippi, the flag has played a major role. I think Mississippi will be looked at in a different light after November.

VANEK SMITH: So what did the old flag say? You said it was a challenge. You said it kind of drove business away. Like, what message was the old flag giving?

ANDERSON: It just was a complete sign that you were not welcome. There are so many people in Mississippi who see that flag as a reminder of how slavery was in Mississippi. I was telling our commission that I know a good friend of mine whose high school principal was a slave. So we're not talking about the very, very long ago history.

VANEK SMITH: Was there a moment when the flag came down for good - I'm wondering if you watched that moment and how that felt.

ANDERSON: I witnessed it. What I can say is that there hasn't been a lot of negativity around taking the flag down. In 2001, we had an election on whether or not to take the flag down, and we lost substantially. And it was a lot of negativity in the sense that people were hostile and mad about the effort to take the flag down. But this time around, it just seems like people are looking forward to what we'll have as a new flag and not what we are dealing with in the old flag.

VANEK SMITH: So you guys got a lot of submissions. Some are these very sophisticated, high-res graphics, some are in crayon. Are there any designs that stand out to you?

ANDERSON: Look like most of them are leaning towards state flower, which is the magnolia. But we got some beer cans and a lot of other football items, but overall it's coming along.

VANEK SMITH: Yes, I noticed a lot of magnolia designs, too. Is there anything in particular that you would like to see in the new state flag?

ANDERSON: No. I'm comfortable. When we took down that flag, that was a pleasing moment for me. So anything new is a thrill for me.

VANEK SMITH: Reuben Anderson is the chair of the commission to redesign the Mississippi state flag.

Judge Anderson, thank you so much for your time.

ANDERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.