Bennett Windham and Jane Niles hold the Magnolia Flag, which was Mississippi's state flag from 1861 to 1894. Windham and Niles are across-the-street neighbors on Southside and both display the historic flag near the entrances to their homes. Photo by: Birney Imes/Dispatch staff
September 16, 2017 11:44:55 PM
You wouldn't consider any of them political activists, necessarily, but a handful of Southside residents may have the best idea yet on how to address the flag issue. They are flying in front of their homes the historic Magnolia Flag, the banner that was once the state flag.
While some see it as a subtle political statement, most simply like the looks of the flag that features the Bonnie Blue Flag in its canton and a magnolia tree. Most of these "renegades" say they have no reservations about flying the Magnolia Flag, whereas they say they would not display the current state flag.
It's hard to believe in this day and time any state is flying a flag that incorporates in its design the Confederate battle flag. Only one still does: Mississippi. (Georgia removed the stars and bars from its flag in 2001).
The Magnolia Flag, which has roots in an 1810 war between Spain and American settlers in west Florida, and the Texas War of Independence in 1836, combines the Bonnie Blue flag from those conflicts and Mississippi's state tree and flower, the magnolia. The Magnolia Flag was the state flag from 1861 until 1894 when the current flag was adopted, almost 30 years after the end of the Civil War.
Local historian and Dispatch columnist Rufus Ward has advocated the readoption of the Magnolia Flag as the state flag. In his most recent column on the subject (Sept. 8), Ward writes, "As a historian, I see an option for Mississippi to change its flag in a way that all views are respected and at the same time takes the historical high road. ... It is far more rooted in our history than the current flag, which was adopted in 1894."
Three years ago, Ward gave his friend Joe Boggess a Magnolia Flag. Joe and his wife, Carol, fly it at Whitehall, the Southside antebellum that is Joe's ancestral home.
"My personal opinion is a lot of this stuff is made to be a bigger offense than it is," Joe said last week. "That Rebel flag has been co-opted by the KKK and others. It's an economic drag, probably. It doesn't help."
Boggess is not optimistic the Legislature will find the gumption to change the flag. He has a suggestion, though.
"I think it would be cool if all these state institutions that have taken down the state flag would fly this flag," Boggess said (None of the state's eight public institutions of higher education fly the state flag). "I'd like to see them run that flag up the pole; (eventually) it might be accepted as an option. If enough institutions did that, it would have enough influence."
Bennett and Katie Windham are restoring a two-story Victorian on Fourth Street South around the corner from the Boggesses. Shortly after they began work on the house in July, Bennett hung Magnolia Flag on their front porch.
Bennett also sees the flag as a way to express his affection for the state and avoid the negative connotations associated with the current flag.
"It struck a chord with me," he said. It's simple and clean and beautiful and, while it has history, it doesn't have a negative stain on it, to my eyes. The Magnolia Flag can represent all of us, and I've always liked that about it," he said.
On a recent summer evening, Bennett and Katie were visiting on their front porch with their across-the-street neighbor, Jane Niles. Niles remembered the Magnolia Flag from her school days and told her new neighbors how much she liked theirs.
Bennett ordered a flag for "Miss Jane."
Lenore Richards, a friend of Niles and our next-door neighbor, saw Niles' flag and liked it. Richards' down-the-street neighbor Melanie Phillips ordered Richards and herself a flag from Amazon. The flag is available on-line for $1.94 plus $4.99 shipping.
Richards displays the flag from the landing of her second-story apartment.
"I just thought this was different and pretty, a nice thing to have."
Phillips has since ordered flags for two other neighbors on her street (Beth Imes being one of them).
While Phillips, a Michigan native, hasn't unfurled her Magnolia Flag, she plans to. For now she's flying the banner of her beloved Wolverines.
"I'll fly mine after football season is over," she said.
Birney Imes is the publisher of The Dispatch. Email him at [email protected]
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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