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Mississippi 2001 Flag Referendum

Last modified: 2012-03-10 by rick wyatt
Keywords: mississippi | referendum |
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[Mississippi flag proposal, 2001] image by Clay Moss

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2001 Vote Background/Results

On April 17, 2001, the people of the state of Mississippi voted in the historic state flag referendum. At the ballot box, voters were asked to decide if the current flag adopted in 1894 was to remain Mississippi's flag or if a recommended alternative (above) would become the new flag. The referendum came about as the result of a Mississippi Supreme Court decision, based on a legal technicality. They declared that the 1894 flag had not been "reconfirmed" when the state constitution was rewritten in 1906, and was thus unofficial. Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove immediately formed a flag committee to determine how the state should respond and proceed.

The committee was an eclectic group of individuals and was headed up by former Governor William Winter. After a series of "town meetings" and meetings with state legislative officials, it was decided that a state wide vote was the most prudent action to take. While the flag committee was about its collective business, a flag design sub-committee was given the task of putting together a flag contest in order to determine if a qualified state flag replacement was in the hands of an artist somewhere in the state. Simultaneously, they were looking at in house alternatives of their own in case nothing from the contest caught anyone's eye.

Ultimately, a design was decided on (below), after much debate and agonizing. It was publicly presented to the state in December, 2000. However, privately, the Mississippi House of Representatives and Senate were given 5 other designs to consider, all of which were similar to the flag committees recommended design. Ultimately, the alternative design illustrated above won the day in state government, and was placed on the ballot as Mississippi's possible new state flag.

There was a great deal of anticipation swirling around the outcome of the flag vote, but when all was said and done, the 1894 flag was still flying as Mississippi's flag. Only now, it was again official, by a vote of 65% to 35%.

Many believed that Mississippians voted along racial lines. However, this was not necessarily the case. As a matter of pragmatic fact, only 13% of Caucasian voters had to vote for change in order for the new flag to be victorious at the ballot box. Unofficial and unscientific exit polls suggested that more than 20% of white voters said the flag should change. What's more interesting is that in certain counties where an overwhelming majority of the population is African American, the vote was roughly split.

Contrary to media reports and popular belief, I did not design the alternative flag. I was the vexillological advisor to Governor Winter and the flag committee. I was also the committee's illustrator and drew up all of the new flag proposals. Credit for the new design has to be given to about 8 or 9 people, all of which coincidentally submitted the same basic design. I modified the designs mainly by giving them proportional clarity.

The symbolism in the flag is rather simple. The colors correspond with the colors of the U.S. flag and represent the same traditional virtues. In the constellation of stars, the outer 13 stars represent the original 13 U.S. states. The 6 stars in the inner circle represent the 6 sovereign entities that have governed Mississippi. Alphabetically, they are, the Confederate States of America, France, Great Britain, Native American tribes, the Republic of Mississippi, Spain, and the United States. The central star in the center stands for the current state of Mississippi.

Clay Moss, 18 April 2004

The change from the proposal below to that at the top of this page was made by the Legislature. There were two reasons. First, there were those who wanted to retain the stripe combination of the original design. Second, there were those who favored blue cantons over a red one, especially if one looks to the balance of color. There would have been too much red with only a hint of blue.

In this case, it was the legislature, not vexillologists/vexillographers, making decisions regarding the flag. They took proposals and began to modify them. During this time, Clay and I discussed the insane actions of the committee and legislature regarding flag selections and activities. Without injecting too much opinion, Clay really did as well as he could with what he had. Once the legislature got to changing things, the design was weakened.
Paige Herring, 22 August 2004

2000 design proposal

[Mississippi flag proposal, 2000] image by Clay Moss

This design was the original new state flag suggestion presented to the State of Mississippi in December, 2000. Serving as vexillological advisor to the flag committee, I pushed for this design over the design that ultimately went to the polls. I had several reasons for being attracted to this particular flag, but the main one had to do with herald and aesthetic common sense. Those familiar with Mississippi's flag history are aware of a very long debate that took place over whether or not the canton in the state's flag should be separated with a fimbriation from the 3 horizontal stripes. That particular issue in and of itself was settled in 1995 when I was asked by then Governor Kirk Fordice to draw a set of definitive specifications for the state flag. Uniformity in design and design specification had been a huge issue. Among other things, the Governor and I collectively agreed that the fimbriation was necessary for all the obvious heraldic reasons. When I completed the specification sheet, the Governor Fordice's office sent out a letter to all major US flag manufacturers asking them to modify their Mississippi flag designs. Most manufacturers at least partially complied, but none of them to this day have followed through entirely.

Now to the point: The design immediately above has no absolutely need for a fimbriation between the canton and the rest of the flag, and therefore made the most sense to me as a possible new flag. The flag committee initially agreed with my rationale, but wanted to give state government other options. As it turns out, they selected the alternative design we're familiar with. Overall, the blue, white, and red horizontal stripes Representative Scudder incorporated into the current Mississippi flag never really made sense. I was not around in 1894, but if I had been, and Representative Scudder had sought my advise, I would have suggested changing the bottom red stripe to Old Glory blue, just like the top stripe.
Clay Moss, 20 August 2004

I remember looking at the actual county-by-county results which included totals for both black, white and other voter groups and being shocked as to what areas/counties voted and how they voted. Generically, speaking, the west and Hinds County (location of Jackson, the state capital) voted for the change. The counties along the coast, east and north of the state voted to keep the flag. The county exceptions to these generalizations were what clearly demonstrated that the decision to retain the old flag cut was not a racial issue. That being said, the whole point is that Clay was trying to make it clear that this was NOT a racial issue. Many people, both inside and outside Mississippi, wanted it to be so. Some still do, but the fact is that the vote cut across racial lines at a time when the state was (and always seems to be), in a debate over budget shortfalls and other economic issues. Many people that I spoke with at the time before, during and after the election did not really care about the election. I often heard people asking if we had better things to do with taxpayer money. To paraphrase an elderly black gentleman that was on TV at the time, "People want to know if changing the flag will make a difference. If the flag changes today, I will still have the same problems tomorrow. So why do I need to change?" This pretty much sums up the feeling of many Mississippians both then and now.
Paige Herring, 29 August 2004

I recall reading accounts at the time that the objection was that many felt that white stars on a red background made the flag resemble the flags of Communist countries, particularly North Korea (and, I add, Cuba)...
Again, I recall reading that the symbolism was that Mississippi was the twentieth state, so there were 13 stars for the original states, six for the next six admitted, and the center one for Mississippi itself...
Note that the colors on the US flag don't represent anything - the same colors on the U.S. coat of arms do.
Nathan Lamm, 23 January 2005

Senator Scudder's original 1894 Mississippi flag design did not have a fimbriation flanking the canton. In a nutshell, the "other" debate that raged on for years over the Mississippi flag was whether or not the fimbriation ought to be there. From the very beginning, both types of flags were produced. Heraldically and aesthetically, the fimbriation should be on the flag. If you're a purest, you don't want it on there. I have referred to this incident above, but will elaborate a bit more here.

In 1995, Governor Kirk Fordice evidently started thinking about the flag and wanted to standardize the design. On the Capitol grounds, two large 10x15 foot Mississippi flags are flown. In 1995 and before, it was not unusual to see perhaps a fimbriated flag flying in front of the Capitol, and a non-fimbriated version flying in front of the Sillers Building, the main Capitol office building. They flew less than 150 yards apart from one another and could be seen simultaneously depending on where the viewer was standing. Then there were all the other varieties of Mississippi flag being used all over the state.
     Anyway, Governor Fordice contacted me and asked my opinion on the situation. Basically I said "fimbriate", and he agreed. From there, he asked me to draw up a set of standard specifications for the flag. Not only did I incorporate a standardized fimbriation around the canton, I also standardized the width of the saltire and its fimbriation, and specified star placements and size. The proportions of these devices varied wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer. When I finished, Governor Fordice approved the specifications and his office drafted up a letter that was sent to all major US flag manufacturers. The specifications were also sent to the Secretary of State's office, as he is technically the "Keeper of the Flag". The specifications didn't become "official" until after the referendum of 2001.
Clay Moss, 10 October 2005

[Mississippi alternative flag]   [Mississippi alternative flag]   [Mississippi alternative flag]   [Mississippi alternative flag]
images by Clay Moss, 11 October 2005 [Click on images for larger versions.]

I was asked why it was necessary for me to totally alter Mississippi's flag specifications in 1995. I had mentioned earlier that before 1995, manufacturers produced Mississippi flags that varied greatly in terms of collective proportions. One of the reason for this had to be the 1894 description of Mississippi's flag found in the legislation officiating the flag. The description is so ambiguous that all of the attached gifs are valid interpretations. Thus, the pragmatic necessity for a definitive set of specs. We were already adding "officially" the fimbriation. We thought it prudent to go ahead and kill two birds with one stone. During the 2001 referendum, one state senator was super insistent that we follow the "letter of the law" when drawing up Mississippi's flag. When I showed him these 4 images above and a bunch of other equally absurd but legitimate designs and asked him which "letter of the law" sample we should go with, he clammed up. We never heard another peep out of him. As far as pre 1995 fimbriations flanking the canton are concerned, I chalk it up to heraldically competent flag makers who knew it belonged whether specified or not. I would guess that over the long haul prior to 1995, more fimbriated canton Mississippi flags were made than non-fimbriated.

[Mississippi alternative flag] image proposal by Clay Moss, 11 October 2005

This is what I would have suggested in 1894 to Senator Scudder if I had been alive then and possessed of the same credibility that I have now. That's not to say that the current flag wouldn't have carried the day, but at least he and the rest of the legislature would have had an alternative to kick around.
Clay Moss, 11 October 2005

I've always thought Mississippi's best flag was the one adopted soon after secession, white with a blue canton with a white star, on the fly a magnolia tree, and a red vertical stripe at the fly.
Joe McMillan, 12 October 2005

There was talk of resubmitting that flag without the red bar. However, it was determined that it would be too difficult to standardize a magnolia tree. Magnolia trees take on all sorts of shapes, and the tree itself was considered too complex. If only it was a pine tree or palm tree of some sort. Also, the flag committee wanted to make sure the flag stayed simple if changed. Speaking of magnolias, I forgot to mention earlier that the flag committee received a huge number of letters that said more or less "whatever you do, don't put a magnolia blossom or tree on the new flag." It came as a bit of a shock that there was so much disdain for magnolias.
Clay Moss, 12 October 2005