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.”
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.”