Raising a New Flag
By Jim Beaugez | Photography courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Designers from around the state worked to create the official state banner, which pays homage to Mississippi’s arts, literature, and music.
When the Mississippi Legislature voted overwhelmingly in June 2020 to establish a commission devoted to designing a new state flag, lawmakers mandated the flag must incorporate the words “In God We Trust.” But the final design itself, affirmed by 72.9 percent of voters in a statewide referendum in November, was created in the spirit of e pluribus unum: From many, one.
The Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag, with administrative support from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), curated a collection of more than 2,000 flag design submissions. While the approved flag was based on a design created by Rocky Vaughan of Ackerman, the final version was a collaboration among the nine commissioners as well as four additional designers.
The new Mississippi state banner’s centerpiece is a white magnolia blossom, the official state flower and a symbol often used to represent the state. According to MDAH, the blossom represents hospitality as well as a sense of hope and rebirth, as the magnolia often blooms more than once a year and has a long blooming season.
For designer Sue Anna Joe, a Greenwood native now living in San Francisco, the magnolia is especially meaningful. The flower played a large role in her own flag design, which made it to round two of the commission’s voting, but it endured and was incorporated into the final version.
“[The magnolia blossom] made the most sense from both an official standpoint and a symbolic perspective,” says Joe. “It’s our state flower and tree, [and] it symbolizes longevity and perseverance. Some of the most determined and steadfast people I know are from Mississippi, so the magnolia is the perfect reflection of their spirit.”
Twenty white stars representing Mississippi being the 20th state of the Union encircle the flower, crowned by a gold five-point star for the indigenous Native American tribes who inhabited the land that became Mississippi. Dominique Pugh of Starkville worked on those elements, as well as more than a dozen of the flag designs, at the request of the commission.
“The flag means a lot to me because it simultaneously represents our history while also symbolizing change for our present and future,” says Pugh. “The gold star resonates with me because it represents the Native Americans in Mississippi and will show the world that they are a part of our Mississippi community.”
Three colors make up the background of the flag. Navy blue, a nod to the blue used in the American flag, is used behind the magnolia and stars, while bordering bands of gold represent the rich cultural history of Mississippi. Wide bands of red on both sides represent hardiness and valor.
“One thing I felt very strongly about,” says designer Kara Giles of Oxford, who worked on multiple designs for the commission, “was to include a nod to the arts, literature, and music that has come out of Mississippi.”
Clay Moss of Pearl, a vexillologist who prepared the design specifications for flag makers, worked with the designers to ensure the artwork could be reproduced without losing detail. That meant simplifying graphic elements such as the magnolia stamen, which became a solid gold feature instead of the more intricate original design so it was easier to identify from a distance. He also prepared the final flag file for the Secretary of State’s office, the caretaker of official state symbols.
“The artwork is available through the Secretary of State’s office — that way, the same artwork will be sent, at the Secretary of State’s discretion, to anyone desiring to manufacture Mississippi flags for state government use,” says Moss. “We got that idea from the state of Florida, as all Florida flags, regardless of manufacturer, are almost exactly uniform. No other U.S. state with a complex design can say that.”
Joe says she felt relief when the final flag was approved by nearly 1 million voters, but she wouldn’t have minded going back to the drawing board if they wanted a different design to represent them.
“The most important thing out of all of this was that Mississippi could move forward,” she says. “I got involved because I felt a sense of duty to contribute. Even though I live out of state, I still consider myself a Mississippian because Mississippi is the only place that feels like home, and I identify with Mississippians more than I do with other people. Mississippi culture has a way of seeping into your skin and curling up in your bones.”