Don Lewis, the chief operations officer of Tupelo, Miss., just wanted the holiday season to be “peaceful and calm.” That’s why Lewis told the Daily Journal he suggested flying the state’s bicentennial banner over municipal buildings instead of the Mississippi state flag until sometime after the first of the year.
But pretty soon after the calendar turned January, the state flag with the Confederate battle emblem was flying over Tupelo police headquarters, reigniting the controversy over Mississippi’s history.
All eight of Mississippi’s public universities stopped flying the state flag last year because of the Confederate stars-and-bars, as did several cities and counties. But several media outlets reported Tupelo police officials replaced the state’s bicentennial banner with the state flag the first week of January.
“I want us to be a city for all people, not just any one color,” Tupelo City Council member Willie Jennings said. “We need to find a better way of working together.”
State Rep. Greg Snowden (R) thinks he has the “better way” that Jennings and other Mississippians have been searching for: two state flags.
The same week Tupelo police were raising the Confederate Stars-and-Bars on one of three flagpoles at their headquarters, Snowden submitted legislation that would mandate the creation of a second state flag.
The second flag would replace the Confederate symbol with the “Magnolia grandiflora with white flowers” that was part of the Mississippi flag that flew over the state from 1861 to 1894 before the current flag was adopted.
“We feel that it is most appropriate to adopt the historical Magnolia Flag as an additional design of the official state flag that may be flown with equal status and dignity to represent our state as we are beginning our third century as a member of the United States,” the bill says.
Under Snowden’s proposal, “each design may be flown individually as the official flag, or they may be flown together.”
“That way you would not be changing the flag, per se, and you would still allow people to have a voice,” Snowden told WTOK.
However, Snowden’s bill is only one of three pieces of legislation submitted the first week of January regarding Mississippi’s state flag.
Senate Republicans Joseph Seymour and Angela Hill submitted nearly identical pieces of legislation that would mandate the flying of the Mississippi flag that includes the Confederate symbol.
Seymour’s legislation would penalize any state administrators or college officials who choose not to fly the official state flag where it hurts the most: in the wallet. Twenty-five percent of their pay could be withheld if the Stars-and-Bars don’t fly.
“I don’t care if it’s a burlap sack or a diaper, you know what I mean?” Seymour told WDAM. “The construction of the flag is noteeeeeeeeeeeeeee what the issue is here.”
Sixteen years ago the design of the state flag was put to a public vote. The current flag, with its symbol of the Confederacy, won by a two-to-one margin.
“It was voted on by the citizens of the state of Mississippi to be flown, and for a chancellor or a city to take it upon themselves to go against what the legislature and people have spoken,” Seymour said. “You can’t go against who is footing the bill, and they are going against the citizens of the state of Mississippi.”
The Seymour and Hill bills would also protect any “statues, monuments, murals or nameplates” that relate to any of America’s wars, including the “War Between the States.”
On the other side of the political spectrum, Democratic Rep. Kathy Sykes has offered legislation that calls for the creation of a new state flag. And, according to the text of her bill, Sykes knows just what should be flying high over Mississippi, and it has nothing to do with the Confederate States of America.
Her proposal calls for the creation of a Mississippi flag designed by artist Laurin Stennis.
“On a field 10 units high by 15 units wide, vertical bars at the hoist and fly, in Old Glory Red (Pantone red 193C), three units wide, flank a central panel in white,” the bill reads.
“Centered in the panel, a large five-pointed star in Old Glory Blue (Pantone blue 282C), inscribed within an imaginary circle four and seventy-five hundredths (4.75) units in diameter, is surrounded by 19 small five-pointed stars in Old Glory Blue (Pantone blue 282C), each with a diameter of seven-tenths unit and oriented point-upwards, equally spaced with their centers on an imaginary circle six and nine-tenths units in diameter and one star at the top of the circle,” Sykes’ legislation reads.
Sykes offered the same legislation last year. The proposal never made it out of committee.
But 2018, Sykes told the Northside Sun, should be different.
“I can feel things are changing and I think it’s going to see the light of day,” Sykes said. “We’re going to move forward into the next century (and) hopefully (it will be with) the Stennis flag.”
Perhaps the dawn of a new day is almost ready to break over the Mississippi horizon.
An October Chism Strategies poll showed that while 41 percent of state voters wanted to retire the current Mississippi flag, 49 percent still supported the flag that has angered so many.
“There is no groundswell for a new state flag at this time. Moreover, in this bitter political environment with an energized anti-establishment movement, promoting a referendum on a new state flag would be unwise. Opponents of a new state flag feel much more strongly than do new flag advocates,” Chism Strategies concluded.
“Moreover, this flag debate would probably get highjacked by the Far Right as a rallying cry in the culture wars and the final vote would not reflect the merits of a new flag,” Chism added.
House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) chairs the House Rules Committee that will decide which, if any, of the three flag proposals should go before the full House. Like Sykes, Gunn said it is time for a change.
“There were 11 Confederate states and they had (ancestors) who fought for the Confederacy, but they have moved on and replaced the emblem,” Sykes said. “We’re the last state to hold on to it.”