Mississippi history was made on Sept. 2 when a committee tasked with deciding the finalist for Mississippi's new flag selected the "New Magnolia Flag" with an 8-1 vote.
In June, Mississippi lawmakers voted to retire the previous state flag which featured the Confederate emblem. In November, Mississippi voters will decide to restart the process or adopt the New Magnolia Flag, now branded by the commission as the "In God We Trust" flag.
The flag features a white magnolia circled by 20 white stars and a single gold star against a dark blue and red background.
Oxford graphic designer Kara Giles was asked by a commissioner to help design the flag. Giles said the Magnolia blossom is a symbol that represents the state of Mississippi and the hospitality of its citizens.
"The New Magnolia also represents Mississippi's sense of hope and rebirth, as the Magnolia often blooms more than once and has a long blooming season," Giles said. "The New Magnolia is sleek and updated to represent the forward progression of Mississippi."
According to Giles, the 20 white stars around the flower symbolize Mississippi being the 20th state to be added to the U.S. The golden five-pointed star represents the indigenous Native American tribes who were the first to inhabit the land that is Mississippi.
Jim Giesen, an associate history professor specializing in African-American history and the U.S. South, supports the new flag and believes a change was overdue.
According to Giesen, the previous flag was a product of white supremacy in Mississippi. He said it did not reflect Mississippi then and certainly does not reflect Mississippi now.
"The old flag was a product of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, and that was a movement of white southerners in the 1890s into the 20th century that were attempting to rewrite the history of the Civil War and the history of slavery," Giesen said. "The whole purpose of the Lost Cause was to prop up white supremacy."
Anne Marshall, associate professor of history specializing in the U.S. South and 19th and 20th century U.S., said the Mississippi Legislature adopted the previous flag in 1894, just four years after the state changed its constitution to include Jim Crow laws which required segregated schools, poll taxes and literary tests in order to vote.
Therefore, Marshall said very few black Mississippians were eligible to vote on the old state flag that served as a symbol of white supremacy and represented how white Mississippians historically refused to let go of political, social and economic power.
According to Marshall, Mississippi has the highest percentage of black Americans in the U.S., and a new flag is necessary to accurately represent all citizens of the state.
"The flag represents racial oppression that Mississippi has had a long history of," Marshall said. "It's important to show these are not the primary values of Mississippi, and many Mississippians, both African-American and white, have felt for a very long time that flag does not represent them."
Additionally, Marshall hopes many people will vote in favor of the new flag since Mississippi citizens played a large role in choosing this flag as a finalist. She is also hopeful for a positive outcome since many young voters were not around when the first vote to change the flag was denied in 2001.
Professor Giesen supports a new design, but he is not worried about the state not having a flag at the moment. In front of his house, he currently flies the Hospitality Flag, a popular flag alternative that was designed six years ago.
"Voters should know that, if they restart the process, there will still never be Confederate iconography on the flag again," Giesen said. "I'm just glad that we do not have the stars and bars on our flag anymore."
Graphic designer Giles hopes voters remember the meaning and effort that went into this flag when the time comes to vote on the ballot in November.
"So much effort and thought has gone into this particular flag so that it would represent all Mississippians," Giles said. "I'm just hopeful that they embrace it and pass this flag in November."