This November, Mississippians have the option to vote in approval of a new state flag for the first time since 2001. The new flag, now called the In God We Trust Flag, has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from Mississippians, and the change has inspired residents.
Mississippi State University students of all majors and backgrounds have voiced their support for the new flag.
Will Stanard, a junior political science major from Madison, Mississippi, has been particularly passionate about changing the state flag for the past few years. Stanard said he is pleased to see the In God We Trust Flag on the ballot this November and said it is proof that nothing is unchangeable.
"We are privileged to see a change into something that stands for us and our values in the modern day of Mississippi. I think it could signal that 'OK, some things that we think are unchangeable aren't.' We're able to change, no matter how fixed some systems may seem," Stanard said.
Many Mississippi natives and legislators were instrumental in the movement to change the flag; Starkville and MSU are two prominent representatives who have loudly voiced their advocacy for the change.
Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said she is happy the time has finally come for a new flag, and she is proud of this movement.
"I'm pleased we had so many folks step up and say that 'you know, it's time. It's time.' I wish that it happened 20 years ago or longer, but now that it has happened, I'm delighted that we have decided that this is the direction we want to go," Spruill said. "I think that the legislators who stepped aside understood we didn't need to continue down this path and voted that way."
If the In God We Trust Flag receives the majority of votes on Nov. 3, Spruill said Starkville will be flying it outside of many public buildings. The city of Starkville has not flown the 1894 flag on its publicly owned businesses since 2015. MSU has not flown it since 2016.
Many people say the new flag will be a symbol of hope for Mississippians, and it shows the reformations the state has undergone in the past few decades. Stanard said, by removing the 1894 flag, Mississippi shows it is ready to acknowledge mistakes it has made in the past and is able to create a lasting impact for the state's future.
Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum Chairman Ray Slaughter said he likes the In God We Trust Flag design, and he said he hopes it will create unity in the state instead of promoting division like the 1894 flag.
"I think it was time to change flags, you know. The old flag was too divisive, and it's causing a lot of problems. So it's time to settle on a flag that everyone can get behind and support and can be reflective of what we want everyone to think of when they think of Mississippi," Slaughter said.
Slaughter continued to say while people may not like the idea of a new flag now, over time they will become more accustomed to it, and it will be beneficial for the state.
Young Mississippians have felt inspired by the widespread support of changing the flag and are using their voices to transform Mississippi into a better place. Spruill said she is proud of Mississippi universities for encouraging their students to know the positive effects they can generate by using their voices. She said she hopes young people will continue to realize they can ignite activism in their communities, and it sets the tone for the future.
While a big way to enact change is to vote, Stanard said people can also make a difference in their own lives by self-reflecting and improving their corners of the world.
"I believe that you can do however much campaigning, and you know, you can post however much you want on Instagram about any kind of issue you can think of. But if you do not live your life in a way that affects change through your behaviors and if you yourself do not live in a tolerant and loving way, then you do no good," Stanard said. "And I think how we behave in the world around us is the most effective thing that we can do, over any kind of lofty ambitions that we may have."
This project was produced with support from a grant from the American Press Institute.