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  • Unstated Flag in Mississippi
  • Caleb Smith

In 1894, the legislature of the State of Mississippi adopted a state flag with a Confederate Battle Flag in its canton. It was utilized as a message of White unity against the Populist Movement that had united yeoman African-American and White farmers across the state in the late 1880s and early 1890s (Busbee 2005). The flag was a symbol of White political control and became a reminder of waning African-American power in the state in the 1890s as state laws dismantled the Reconstruction-era reforms and further disenfranchised African-American voters. Attempts to change the state flag began in earnest in the 1980s eventually leading to a 2001 initiative where voters of Mississippi opted to retain the flag with the Confederate Battle Flag over an alternate option that did not possess Confederate iconography (Webster and Leib 2012). During the next two decades, the flag weighed as an albatross reinforcing the outsiders’ view that Mississippi was a racist state still clinging to a war fought against the United States a century and a half prior.

On July 1, 2020, after weeks of debate and political wrangling, Mississippi’s governor signed legislation retiring the 1894 flag, initiating the process of creating a commission that proposed a new flag for the state that was voted upon in November 2020 (Ramseth 2020). The legislation mandated that all official uses of the 1894 flag would cease by July 15, 2020 and the state would not fly an official banner thereafter until a new flag could be selected. This led to the rare occurrence of the state having no official banner between July 2020 and when a new flag was selected in November. The legislation retiring the old flag also established a flag commission to propose a new flag that would appear on the November 2020 ballot. The commission received thousands of submissions, procured feedback from vexillogists, historians, and the public at large, and eventually narrowed the selection to the “In God We Trust” flag that was placed on the November general election ballot statewide (Pender 2020). Nearly 70 percent of state voters approved the new flag.

The cover photo, taken October 2, 2020, is the front of the Jones County Courthouse located in Ellisville, in south central Mississippi. Early morning sunlight creeps over the building, illuminating the American flag on its pole, creating a stark contrast to the empty pole that is intended for a state flag. The empty state flagpole on the right forms a void in the image and ruins the symmetry of the presentation, serving as a reminder that symbols have value – including for the sake of aesthetics. As the courthouse is an office of government, it had to adhere to the legislation that was signed retiring the state flag with the Confederate Battle emblem. This moment is significant in that this is the first time since this courthouse was built in 1908 that the state flag with the Confederate [End Page 105] Battle Flag is not flying either outside the building or inside the courthouse. In the past 113 years, the American flag has changed as four states were added to the Union and four stars were added to the flag on the left. However, the flag that flew on the right remained the same from 1894 until 2020, a tribute to the Confederacy.

Below each flagpole is another ballot measure that was voted upon in November 2020. The Jones County courthouse was constructed in 1908 with Jim Crow provisions that delegated public services as “separate but equal”. In the shadow of the flagpoles are two “separate yet equal” water fountains that were built after the courthouse was completed (Hammett 2020, Lindsey 2020). One fountain had a label of “Colored” while other was labeled “White”, serving as a constant reminder of the segregated society upheld behind the doors of the courthouse daily. After the Civil Rights Movement, the labels were covered with plaster that washed away after rainstorms, so the county placed placards with “Jones County Courthouse 1908” to cover up the labels. Water to the fountains was cut off in the 1980s, but the fountains still remained as a monument to segregation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-6929
Print ISSN
0038-366X
Pages
pp. 105-106
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-27
Open Access
No
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