from Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It
written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Little, Brown and Company, 2020
My dad was a philatelist. He collected stamps from all over the world and all over the United States, too. Two framed maps hung in our basement rec room. One was a world map, the other a map of the United States. It was a long time ago, so Alaska and Hawaii probably were not inset to the west of Texas, confusing third graders who tried to figure out the difference between east and west, on a map anyway. Alaska is not an island state, really.
When I was in college, our sociology professor asked us to fill in a blank map of the United States. Easy peasy! But not for everyone. I was one of only two students who labeled every state correctly. Even Wyoming and Colorado. Even Alabama and Mississippi.
On our honeymoon, my husband and I drove the girls to Florida, admiring the differences and the sameness of the states along the way. Later on, we took the girls to New England. Years after that, we drove across the northern states to Montana to pick up my younger daughter. She had decided to move back home after September 11, 2001. I’ve been out West visiting several of our National Parks. I’ve been to Kentucky, Washington State, and Oregon, but I’ve never been to Mississippi.
Mississippi’s history is complex. With a total population of just under three million, Mississippi has the highest poverty rate of all the states. And the poorest education system.
One of the most powerful symbols of any state is its flag. Even though Mississippi achieved statehood on December 10, 1817, it did not have its own flag until right before the Civil War. As the story goes, on the eve of the Civil War, just before secession was to be declared, someone on a balcony overlooking the State Convention handed down a Bonnie Blue, a large, white star framed on a square, blue field. The Bonnie Blue was moved into the top left corner and a large magnolia tree was placed in the center of a white background. The flag may or may not have been outlined in red. The magnolia tree may or may not have been in bloom. Variations abound in the sources I consulted. But the Magnolia Flag served Mississippi for the duration of the War. It was not flown much. The Confederate battle flag was preferred.
After the War, another State Constitutional Convention nullified many of the ordinances and resolutions passed by the State Convention of 1861, including the provision for a State flag.
So, in 1894, the Mississippi legislature replaced the Magnolia flag with a new one. The Confederate battle flag replaced the small Bonnie Blue. Thirteen stars represented the original thirteen states. They may also have represented the eleven states that seceded plus Missouri and Kentucky. Three horizontal stripes; blue, white, and red, replaced the magnolia tree. They may or may not have reflected the colors of the Union.
This second flag, with a few minor variations, flew over Mississippi until very recently. In 2001, the governor appointed a commission to design a new flag. A referendum was put before the voters, but they voted down the new design and the 1894 flag, the one with the Confederate battle flag embedded in the corner, continued to fly.
And even though the Confederacy was defeated and Abraham Lincoln tried to knit our country back together, some ideas die hard. White privilege is one. The Confederate flag is another.
Condemned by organizations as diverse as the NCAA, Walmart, and the Mississippi Baptist Convention, the flag brought unwelcome controversy. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, weeks of protests, and a lifting up of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Mississippi voters finally said “no” to promoting racism on its flag. Exactly one week ago Mississippi voters finally gave up the Confederate flag.
One hundred and fifty-five years and 7 months has passed since General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. President Andrew Johnson finally declared a formal end to the War sixteen months later.
Mississippi is the last state to replace its flag with one that does not venerate the Confederacy. On Election Day, 2020, the people of Mississippi chose their new state flag.
Please have a look. It’s beautiful, in so many ways. https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/11/04/new-mississippi-state-flag-election-results/6061248002/
Since Mississippi was the twentieth state to join the union. twenty stars ring a large central magnolia blossom. A single gold star at the top represents the indigenous people of the land that would become Mississippi. The magnolia blossom represents hospitality. Two vertical parallel, gold lines flanking it and the gold stamen of the magnolia blossom itself symbolize Mississippi’s rich cultural history.
In January, Mississippi’s Legislature will formally enact the new design into law. The new flag will be flown around the state shortly after.
If we ever get to drive to Florida again, I’d like to detour through Mississippi. I’d love to admire that beautiful flag!
-—stay curious! (and wave strong)