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Thursday, December 03, 2020

Explained: Why the US state of Mississippi got a new flag

The flag will replace the old one that has been in use for 126 years, and which carried the Confederate battle emblem on it.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 5, 2020 9:51:55 am
Mississippi flag, new Mississippi flag, Mississippi flag design, why Mississippi changed its flag, confederate emblems, black lives matter, US elections, express explained, indian expressThe new flag is designed by Rocky Vaughan and features a white magnolia on a blue banner with red and gold bars on each end. (Photo: AP)

On Tuesday (November 3), voters in Mississippi approved a new flag, “The New Magnolia”, featuring a magnolia flower. The flag will replace the old one that has been in use for 126 years, and which carried the Confederate battle emblem on it.

The Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag received nearly 3,000 submissions, from which the magnolia was chosen on September 2.

Mississippi is nicknamed the “Magnolia State”, a reference to the magnolia trees that grow there.

Why did Mississippi change its flag?

Mississippi was the last state in the US to have a flag that featured the Confederate battle emblem.

In the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter protests that followed the death of African American George Floyd this May, the state was under pressure to change its flag, with some protesters demanding the removal of statues or monuments that could be perceived as symbols of racism, including some Confederate monuments.

In June, protestors tore down a statue of Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia. Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.

Also in Explained | A guide to tracking the US Election 2020 results

Late in June, Mississippi’s Republican governor signed a bill that removed the status of the 126-year-old flag and on November 3, voters from the state approved the design of the new flag. The old flag was adopted nearly three decades after the Civil War and in a 2001 referendum, nearly two-thirds of the voters reaffirmed this flag.

How is the new flag different from the old one?

As per the Mississippi Historical Society (MHS), the state did not officially adopt a flag till 1861, when the state seceded from the US and joined the Confederate States of America. On January 26, 1861, the delegates approved the report prepared by a committee that was appointed to design a suitable flag, an emblem that became known as the Magnolia flag, which featured a Magnolia tree in the centre. But Mississippi became a part of the Confederacy in March the same year, which authorised the governor to have a Confederate flag. Even so, the Magnolia flag remained the official state flag till 1865, as per MHS.

The new flag is designed by Rocky Vaughan and features a white magnolia on a blue banner with red and gold bars on each end. The flower is encircled in 20 five-point stars and the words “In God We Trust”. An additional star on the flag represents the indigenous Native Americans. On July 1, 2020, Mississippi retired the state’s flag that had been in use since 1894. The legislature then said that the new design should not contain that flag and must include the words “In God We Trust.”

What are the Confederate symbols?

The Confederate States of America or the Confederacy refers to the government of 11 Southern slaveholding states that seceded from the Union in 1860-61 in the American Civil War after they felt threatened by the election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln as the US President in 1860.

These pro-slavery states operated under the presidentship of Jefferson Davis and vice president Alexander Stephens. Soon, the Confederacy acquired symbols such as the Confederate flag and their own stamps. These states carried out all their affairs separately until they were defeated in 1865. States that were a part of the Confederacy included South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Texas, among others.

On July 10, 2015, South Carolina state troopers ceremonially lowered the Confederate flag after 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof, who massacred nine African Americans at a black church in Charleston in June 2015, was seen holding the flag.

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The flag, which is used to honour the Confederates who died in the Civil War, is seen by many white supremacists as a symbol of Southern pride. Confederate names and symbols can be found on commemorative licence plates, public schools, statues, military bases, parks, roads and counties.

According to a report in Politico, there are over 220 Confederate symbols in the state of Virginia alone, which include three military bases named after Confederate war heroes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, there are more than 1,700 such symbols across the US, including more than 700 Confederate statues.

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