restricted access Black, White or Green?: The Confederate Battle Emblem and the 2001 Mississippi State Flag Referendum

Contentious debates over whether it is appropriate to display the Confederate battle flag in public spaces have been waged across the American South since the late 1980s, with attitudes in these debates largely divided along racial lines. The most vitriolic debates occurred in the four states sanctioning the most prominent displays of the battle emblem: Alabama and South Carolina (where the flag flew over their state capitols), and Georgia and Mississippi (where the battle emblem was incorporated into their state flags). Although there were calls in all four states to address the legitimacy of the battle flag’s public display via public referenda, only in Mississippi has a statewide public vote been held. The Mississippi state flag has incorporated the battle emblem in its design since 1894. In April 2001, the state held a public referendum on whether to replace the 1894 flag with a new flag designed by a commission. The proposed new flag deleted the battle emblem and replaced it with a circle of twenty stars, but was rejected by an overwhelming majority of the state’s voters. In this paper, we examine the geography of the referendum vote through two different conceptions of electoral politics which aid in explaining the spatial patterns of the votes in Mississippi’s flag referendum: the electoral cleavage model and the traditionalist-modernizer model. Through cartographic and statistical analyses, we conclude that both models provide valuable insight into the vote and attitudes towards the Mississippi flag debate.