Sunday, July 5, 2020

US State of Mississippi Now Has No Flag

Update: On November 3, 2020, Mississippi voted to approve a replacement flag, which was then officially adopted on January 11, 2021.

The second flag of the US state of Mississippi, stripped of official status on June 30, 2020
Former official flag of Mississippi state (2001-2020)

The Mississippi Flag is No More

Last Tuesday the elected governor of Mississippi, one of the 50 states of the United States of America, signed a new law stripping official status from the state's controversial flag.

Mississippi's was the only remaining state flag to include the Confederate battle emblem, a symbol of the separatist Confederate States of America who fought to preserve slavery in the country's 1860s civil war.

Though citizens are not banned from flying the flag - a right protected by the US Constitution - it has been taken down from both the state government building and the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Several city governments and universities in Mississippi had already stopped flying the state flag.

Mississippi Flag: What Next?

Mississippi's 2017 bicentennial flag
This flag, designed for Mississippi's 200-year anniversary celebrations in 2017, has temporarily replaced the former state flag at the US Capitol.
The law abolishing Mississippi's flag says the state government must create a commission to design a new flag, with the new design to be put to voters in a referendum on November 3, 2020. If voters reject the new flag design, yet another design will be developed, and voted on in November of a later year.

The law specifies that the new flag design may not include the Confederate emblem, and must instead include the words "In God We Trust" - the less-controversial official motto of the United States.

Can a State Have No Flag?

Today, it might seem strange today for a US state to go without an official flag - after all, every other state besides Mississippi has one. But it wasn't always that way. Though the US declared independence in 1776, many states didn't adopt official flags until the late 1800s or early 1900s, often only choosing one once they needed it for an exposition or national flag display.

First flag of Mississippi state, from when it was part of the Confederacy during the US Civil War
Flag of Confederate Mississippi (1861-1865)
And this is actually the third time Mississippi has been flagless. First, it didn't adopt any flag when it first became a state in 1817, only creating one once it seceded from the United States as part of the Confederacy. Ironically, that flag - used only from 1861 to 1865 - did not include the Confederate symbol that would make the state's next flag controversial.

After the Confederacy was defeated in the civil war, the law establishing the flag was canceled as part of a revamp of the state's constitution. It wasn't until 1894 that Mississippi established a new official flag, this time adding the Confederate battle emblem as a symbol of defiance against the northern states that had won the war. This flag - with small variations - remained in use until last Tuesday.

Subdivision Name:  
• Mississippi (English)
Official Name:  
• State of Mississippi (English)
Status: Federal state of the United States of America (USA)
Capital: Jackson
But this is where it gets a little weird - in 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that, while the state government was allowed to fly the controversial flag, it wasn't technically official. It turns out that a 1906 renovation of the state's law code had repealed all previous laws without reestablishing the flag's official status.

The flag was reestablished in law in February 2001, and soon afterwards confirmed by voters, who rejected a flag change in a statewide referendum. But from 1906 to 2001, the state had been technically without an official flag.

Symbols of the Confederacy

The original confederate flag, used as the national flag of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1863
First national flag of the Confederate States of America (1861-1863)
The emblem removed by the Mississippi state government is seen as a symbol of heritage or righteous defiance by its supporters, and as a symbol of racism by its opponents. It's commonly called the "Confederate flag", but it wasn't actually the national flag of the Confederate states.

On the other hand, it did get included in the corner of the Confederate national flag two years into the war, after being used as a military banner in battle. Its position on that second flag was almost the same as on the now-defunct Mississippi state flag.

Second national flag of the Confederate States of America (1863-1865), including the battle emblem now often known as the Confederate Flag
Second national flag of the Confederate States of America (1863-1865)
While Mississippi was the last remaining state to feature the actual Confederate battle emblem on its flag (Georgia removed its own in 2001), Confederate symbolism in state flags still lives on. Several states still incorporate elements of the emblem into their flags, and the current flags of Georgia and North Carolina states are similar to the Confederacy's actual first national flag.

Along the same lines, the Confederate battle flag itself was flown from the top of the state capitol building in South Carolina from 1961 to 2000, and from a lower position on the grounds until 2015.

Interested in flag changes around the world? For more coverage, view all flag change articles on PolGeoNow!