Mississippi: A Study Investigating Flags and Identity
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Flags have represented people groups, geographic areas, cultures, histories, and ideologies for millennia. A diverse populace has the potential to rally underneath a strong flag and move beyond past wounds, as evidenced by South Africa’s post-apartheid flag. Due to this intrinsic connection with society, flags can elicit extreme emotions and become the identity of a particular locale, for better or for worse (Smith, 2015, p. 6). In the summer of 2015, Mississippi House of Representatives Speaker Philip Gunn expressed his personal viewpoint while addressing fellow state politicians: “I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag (Sanburn 2015).” This body of research explores the state of Mississippi’s controversial flag and how an informed design process can create an appropriate, aesthetic solution.
Mississippi is the last state in the U.S. to include the Confederate battle flag in its identity. Since the Civil War, this symbol has held a racially divisive connotation due to its association with the slave-holding Confederacy and adoption by hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. This symbol of the past is a hindrance to a state that has, according to the 2015 U.S. Census, a 37.6% African American population (the highest in the nation, behind Washington DC). With African Americans making up a large percentage of the state’s residents, a flag connected to the Confederate States of America is not an accurate representation of its people.
In 2001, Mississippi held a statewide referendum for a new flag, but the state overwhelmingly voted to keep the old flag adopted in 1894. One of the most common arguments for keeping the flag has been maintaining a so-called symbol of Southern pride and respecting ancestors who died fighting the Civil War. "A corner of our flag is a small sacrifice of cloth for the bloody, honorable and selfless sacrifice [Confederate soldiers] made for Mississippi (Cantner 2C)."
This thesis will explore important Mississippi symbols that could effectively represent Southern heritage while also celebrating racial diversity. Since 2001, other Southern states such as Georgia and South Carolina have removed the Confederate battle flag from their identities and governmental facilities.
The deliverables for this thesis will result in two flag designs: Outcome A— generated by research and design expertise, and Outcome B—generated by a creative partnership with Mississippians through online surveys. The following items will be created as a result of the new flag proposals: flag design process journal, flag style guide, new flag symbolism posters, new flag proposal video, a new flag proposal kit, and websites promoting Outcome A (MightyMagnoliaFlag.com) and Outcome B (DesignMississippi.com) to assist in promoting these new potential state identities. By researching vexillology (the study of flags), vexillography (the design of flags), Mississippi symbolism, Mississippi history, and similar flag discussions, this project aims to accurately represent the twenty-first century residents of this state. The proposed flag designs will be incorporated in online surveys to assess their potential appeal among Mississippians."