What should Mississippi’s new flag look like?
We only know two things about the new design after Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation on June 30 to retire the old state flag: It won’t have the Confederate battle emblem and it’ll include the words “In God We Trust.”
Given the flag’s history and the decades-long fight over whether to keep it, the design of the new flag isn’t just of interest to our nation’s amateur vexillologists. Considering the fact that the old flag was voted and signed out of existence in a hurry due to the shifting landscape in the weeks following the death of George Floyd, there’s a bit more cultural import attached to this than most of the flag redesigns we’ve seen in the Old South.
There’ll be no shortage of stakeholders who’ll have some input into what the new flag will look like. One of them almost certainly won’t be CNN, but that’s not going to stop the network from offering its input.
In a Friday piece on its Style sub-site (probably the first sign this wasn’t to be taken too seriously), CNN commissioned “five Black emerging artists who grew up in Mississippi with the prompt to reimagine the state flag.”
The results were interesting — which isn’t quite a synonym for good, for reasons I’ll discuss later.
CNN “reached out to five Black emerging artists who grew up in Mississippi with the prompt to reimagine the state flag.”
— j.d. durkin (@jiveDurkey) July 10, 2020
Not pictured in that Twitter post, it must be noted, is a design by Jyreme Mcmillon, which was actually more traditional than the rest.
Going through these in clockwise fashion, starting top left: Reshonda Perryman’s design is informed by her belief that Americans have misconceptions about her state.
“The hospitality here knows no bounds. The calm, slow pace, the amazing food, the beautiful landscape, the diversity and the amazingly talented people are all things that make me proud to call Mississippi home,” the 31-year-old Jackson resident told CNN.
“However, Mississippi holds a stigma that to some is simply unshakeable. Our tarred history and the unyielding, controversial views of some Mississippians paint a picture quite different from mine.”
The flag features a stylized, of-the-moment letter “M” with the star and “In God We Trust” in the lower-left corner.
“I used different hues of the traditional red, white and blue: the deeper navy to symbolize stability and unity, the brighter red for courage, passion and strength and the white for light and purity,” she said.
On the upper right is 24-year-old Dante Johnson’s design, which features the state flower — the magnolia — very prominently. He says his concept is meant to unite.
Beyond the magnolia, “the seeds in the center star represent the youth that hold the future in their hands.” Olive branches, meanwhile, “represent an era of change, something that attempts to symbolize bridging the divide that is so strongly present in Mississippi.”
“Most Mississippians have very strong Southern pride,” he said. “Unfortunately, that also has its drawbacks. Southern states tend to be more stubborn when it comes to change, the questioning of values or one’s own personal beliefs.”
On the lower left, we have Qin Mobley’s design. Mobley, 30, is a resident of Moss Point who focuses on graphic design and murals. CNN described his design as “a streamlined look that can be viewed from different angles.”
“I wanted the design to have simplicity, but still have elements that make it feel patriotic,” Mobley said.
Since he thought the flag needed to represent “a better tomorrow,” CNN said he had the elements in the flag facing forward.
“I also wanted to change the shape of the flag to show that we are open to change. If you turn the flag right side up, it becomes the shape of an M,” he said.
And finally, in the bottom left, we have 33-year-old Robin Martéa’s flag. Marteá, a children’s illustrator from Jackson, told CNN she looked to the flags of states like Arizona, California, Maryland, South Carolina and Wyoming for inspiration.
“These flags are stylish, simplistic and progressive,” she said. “I wanted to follow the same formula.”
“I loved the idea of using the Mississippi state bird, which is the Mockingbird,” Marteá said. “What better way to depict freedom and progression than a bird? The colors that I chose, which are blue tones with yellow, signify peacefulness and joy.”
CNN called her approach “non-traditional and celebratory.” Which sort of exemplifies the issue with the whole exercise. Don’t get me wrong, the flag is visually stunning, and if you’re a children’s illustrator you should probably stick to your strengths. But no one, I think, visualizes this flying over their DMV.
And here’s the final offering in CNN’s article.
(FIFTH FLAG) And here’s the fifth flag, by Mcmillon (all flags are identified by the last name of their creator): pic.twitter.com/58RoQJzZwV
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) July 10, 2020
As CNN described it: “Mcmillion’s design uses a single star to represent Mississippi, with the state flower in its center. Though he kept the traditional colors of red, white and blue, he sees blue representing peace, white symbolizing innocence and red for ‘the determination and hard-fought battles for civil rights,’ he explained.”
It’s worth noting these are merely design exercises at this point. According to Mississippi Today, officials asked the public to submit designs for the new flag on Monday. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 13.
A special commission to be named by the governor will decide on a new design, then place that before voters for approval in November. If that design is rejected, the commission will search for new design during next year’s legislative session, then put that before voters.
So, it could be some time before a new Mississippi flag is chosen.
However, there is a deeper truth behind the various reimaginings of the flag presented by CNN, which is the expectation that Mississippi will make some sort of statement with its flag. It would be easy enough to remove the Confederate battle emblem from it, put something in its place and call it a day.
But why not make a break with the past, these designs seem to say. Granted, each one of them would look as dated in 20 years as those teal sports uniforms from the 1990s look these days. You can get the basic idea, though: For these artists, it’s not just time for Mississippi to break from the Confederate flag, it’s time for Mississippi to break from Mississippi.
Removing the offending part of the flag and just replacing it with another element is a quick, easy way to fix this problem. It’s vexillologically boring, it doesn’t make any point and it’s not going to inspire CNN articles, but it keeps the flag’s traditional design and is a non-divisive way to settle a divisive issue. And for some — for most, I hope — that would be enough.
For some, however, it isn’t enough to just remove the Confederate battle emblem. That wasn’t the end of the story, but rather the beginning.
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