August 8, 2020 6:00:34 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
An opportunity like this is rare. That's what Jim McAnally of Columbus felt when he learned the public could submit ideas for Mississippi's official new flag.
At a major point in the state's history, citizens of all ages and from every walk of life have been asked to help envision a flag that will wave long after the designers are gone. The previous flag had flown since 1894. It was retired July 1.
McAnally, assistant professor of graphic design at Mississippi University for Women, went to the drawing board, so to speak -- as did hundreds, if not thousands, of others. Enough people, in fact, to send in about 3,000 suggestions by the Aug. 1 deadline to the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag. Submissions were posted on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History website Aug. 3, at mdah.pic-time.com/-flagcommission/gallery. By Aug. 7, each of the commission's nine members was to choose a top 25, thus narrowing the possibles to a maximum of 225. Members will then rank their top 10 choices. When the commission next meets Aug. 14, the field will be narrowed to five. Those five are to be placed on the MDAH website for public comment. A final flag recommendation to be sent to the governor and legislators is expected by Sept. 2. The approved design will be on the general election ballot Nov. 3.
A few area residents who submitted designs share insight into their proposals for a flag that meets the state's criteria: Designs must include "In God We Trust" and cannot contain the Confederate battle emblem.
Not surprisingly, a scroll through submissions on the MDAH website reveals some constants -- magnolias, the state flower; mockingbirds, the state bird; the state seal; or representations of the Mississippi River. Dominant colors are red, white and blue. Some designs boast eagles, deer, fish or honeybees. Several show the iconic Gulf Coast lighthouse. At least one, a paddle wheeler. Guitars turn up in multiple designs, alluding to Mississippi's place in music history. Then, there are the tongue-in-cheek -- flags with crawfish and beer cans, a Jolly Roger, a giant mosquito, a caramel cake.
McAnally undertook the project with diligence.
"I thought it would be an honor just to be in the process to be considered," he said. "A thing like this doesn't come around very often, to design a state flag, especially from scratch, so I was eager to try my hand at it and use my knowledge and experience to hopefully come up with a flag that represented the state well."
He considered what Mississippi is known for. Natural resources were high on the list.
"Everything from the Gulf shore to forests, to the Mississippi River," said McAnally. "Ultimately, what I decided I wanted to do was have the river be kind of an icon on my flag."
A stylized blue shape bisects the assistant professor's design, evoking the mighty Mississippi. A green star symbolic of the state's rich forests occupies the upper left. A magnolia blossom is in the lower right.
"The star has five points, and the magnolia has five petals and five leaves, and each petal has a point on it," McAnally explained. "So if you add up all the points of the star, petals and leaves, it adds up to 20, which represents Mississippi being the 20th state."
White in the background represents cotton. Red represents blood that was shed, particularly during the Civil War and the civil rights movement.
"I felt ignoring it completely was kind of a disservice. ... Sacrifices were made and need to be recognized," he said.
Publisher and author Kim Thomas of Columbus wanted to submit a design that expressed new hope and new vision for Mississippi.
"We are at a turning point in our state's history that gives promise and possibility to all its people," she said.
Thomas felt strongly any new flag must be one everyone can be proud of. In her flag's field of red, white and blue, red represents redemption, love and strength. White stands for newness and creation. Blue is for justice and peace. A mockingbird flies across a red star in the center, carrying a magnolia blossom in its beak.
"The bloom signifies Mississippi's new growth, new business developments and new pride," Thomas explained. The star, surrounded by 19 smaller ones, represents Mississippi as the 20th state.
The visible dates 1870 and 2020 note historic years.
"In 1870, Mississippi was allowed by Congress to be readmitted into the union of states," said Thomas. "It was also the year Congress passed the 15th amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote."
The year 2020, she said, notes the year the former flag came down for the last time over the state capitol in Jackson.
Not only did Thomas submit her design, but with the collaboration of her son, Calvin Bailey Jr., she produced an accompanying video and booklet explaining the symbolism as well as illustrating how the design might look on caps, T-shirts, mugs and other items.
Columbus City Attorney Jeff Turnage submitted more than one design. One version, he's had made into a flag that currently flies from the front porch of his home near downtown. (See photo at cdispatch.com, Lifestyles link).
Turnage was born in Long Beach, California, the son of an art teacher mother, who graduated from The W, and a father in the Navy. Many a summer, however, was spent visiting his grandparents in Mississippi. His parents retired to the Magnolia State in 1979. Turnage put down his roots here in 1986.
" ... We moved all over the place, and growing up I would go with (my mother) to various places and watch her paint, or take a stab at doing it myself," he said. Art and drawing classes followed as Turnage went through school. He and his mother would continue to sometimes paint together. After her death in 1994, he felt even more compelled to pursue his art interest. When the recent call went out for designs, he was ready to take part.
His final submission, a pastel on watercolor paper, features a magnolia blossom on a field of blue, with white and red segments completing the flag. The words "In God We Trust" can be added where preferred by commission members. It meets suggested general guidance that a design should be simple enough for youngsters to replicate from memory.
Whether their individual submissions make it through to the final stages or not, McAnally, Thomas and Turnage appreciate the chance to engage in the process during a historic moment for Mississippi.
Turnage said, "It's an exciting time, no matter what we end up with."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.