Mississippi voters look to the In God We Trust Flag this November

On the Nov. 3 ballot, Mississippi voters will have the option to vote not only for their next political leaders but also for a new state flag.

The state has been without an official flag since the legislature voted to remove the 1894 flag, which featured the Confederate Battle Flag, in June.

Shortly thereafter, the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag was formed under House Bill 1796. The commission is comprised of nine members, appointed by Governor Tate Reeves, Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn.

After viewing over 3,000 design submissions, the commission continued to narrow down its choices until five remained on Aug. 18. These five were placed in a public poll available online for voting.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) was able to assist throughout the flag selection process by arranging a gallery of all design submissions and creating polls for public input. 

All designs were required to include the words "In God We Trust" and could not contain the battle flag. The commission also took into account the principles of vexillology, the study of flags, with guidelines like "keep it simple" and "be distinctive." 

Michael Morris, the public relations director at MDAH, said the commission welcomed all design ideas, even some that did not meet the set stipulations by the Aug. 1 deadline.

"MDAH served a clerical function in the process of redesigning the Mississippi state flag," Morris said. "By Friday, July 31, we had received over 1,800 designs that met the criteria, plus some that did not."

On Sept. 2, the winning design, now named the In God We Trust Flag, was selected by the commission. This is the flag that will appear on the November ballot.

In order to become the new official state flag, the In God We Trust Flag must receive 50% of the votes plus one. If it fails to do so, the commission will reconvene to select another flag.

Sherri Carr Bevis, a Mississippi State University alumna and current MSU National Alumni president, was appointed by the lieutenant governor to serve on the flag commission.

Bevis explained if the In God We Trust Flag does not receive the necessary number of votes, the commission's work will begin again.

"If it does not get 50% plus one, the commission will go back to the drawing board, I guess you could say," Carr Bevis said, "and we will start the process over again."

The removal of the 1894 flag follows a long history of public outcries for change. Mississippi is the last state to fly a flag containing the battle emblem after Georgia removed the symbol from its flag in 2001.

In April of that same year, Mississippi voters had the opportunity to vote between the 1894 flag and its potential replacement. The 1894 flag, along with its contested battle emblem, won the vote nearly 2:1.

Anne Marshall, an associate history professor at MSU, believes the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor helped precipitate the flag's successful removal.

"Their killings created a moment of keen awareness of the racial injustice in this country," Marshall said. "People who have opposed the flag for years were able to call attention, as they have for years, to the connection between white supremacy and Confederate symbols — a connection that has been very clear in recent years."

Marshall explains many Black Mississippians were unable to vote for the 1894 flag because of restrictions like poll taxes and literacy tests.

The public input that propelled the In God We Trust Flag to the top of the ballot is a promising sign toward its future. Carr Bevis also pointed out it was designed by a group of people, instead of one individual.

"We had so many wonderful submissions from people across the state, and the one that was selected was not designed by one person but a team," Carr Bevis said. "We were able to make different changes along the way, so there was true collaboration involved."

This project was produced with support from a grant from the American Press Institute.

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