In 2001, the state of Georgia announced the removal of its state flag which included the Confederate battle emblem, making Mississippi the last state to feature the symbol of oppression on its flag.
19 years later, one would think Mississippi would have already changed the flag by now, however, that would be wrong as the state’s controversial banner continues to be the center of conversation in the Magnolia State.
It’s time for that conversation to end; it’s actually been time for that conversation to end, and some legislators are beginning to finally take notice, in large part due to the ongoing protests across the state, of the negative effect the Confederate emblem has on not only the image of Mississippi but the hearts of Mississippians.
This past weekend at the historic Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Jackson, 4,000 protesters—many of whom were carrying the “Stennis Flag,” a frontrunner to replace the current state flag—gathered and marched in honor of the countless victims of police brutality and systemic oppression.
Outside of the Mississippi State Capitol, in between chants of “No Justice, No Peace” and “Black Lives Matter,” a powerful chant of “Change the flag!” arose from the unified voice of protesters.
The demonstration in what could be recorded as the largest protest in the state capital since the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 proved more than influential as a group of bipartisan lawmakers, with the blessing of Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, have now joined forces to draft a resolution to change the state’s flag.
“There is huge momentum and excitement right now,” Laurin Stennis, the local artist who designed the Stennis flag, said. “We have an opportunity here to light a candle in the darkness.”
Stennis, the descendant of segregation leader Senator John C. Stennis, is using the flag to not only put a stop to the oppression that takes place every day in this state but to show that her family has evolved from its Jim Crow-era ancestors.
“I think some folks when they see Stennis, they think it’s named for John C. Stennis,” Stennis explained. “I would have a reservation about that too. Luckily, it is not named after him…I originally was trying to call it the ‘Declare Flag,’ and that was not catching on.”
The flag, created by Laurin in 2014, features a large blue star encircled by 19 smaller stars on a white field, flanked by red bands.
“This is year six, and I think we are at a moment where we have got a shovel-ready solution that is beautiful, positive, bipartisan [and] 100 percent grassroots,” Stennis continued. “That’s the way things should be done in Mississippi, and I think we’re ready.”
The 20 stars represent the fact that Mississippi was the twentieth state to join the Union in 1817. The encirclement of the 19 stars symbolizes the pattern often used by indigenous people in both artwork and ceremonial clothing. The red memorializes the blood shed by Mississippians, “civilian or military,” fighting for liberty and justice for all.
As if the thousands of protesters chanting for a change to the flag was not enough, a poll was recently put out in which 75.7 percent of voters chose to support the Stennis Flag as the new flag to represent Mississippi.
The people have made their voice clear. Now, it’s up to state leaders to determine what’s next for an issue that should have been resolved long ago.