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Public ideas for Mississippi flag: Magnolias, stars, beer

Magnolias, stars, guitars, the cross, beer cans, crawfish, a Gulf Coast lighthouse, Elvis Presley and even Kermit the Frog appear on proposals the general public submitted for a new Mississippi flag.

Mississippi recently retired the last state banner with the Confederate battle emblem that’s widely condemned as racist. A nine-member commission will design a replacement that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the phrase, “In God We Trust.”

The public submitted more than 1,800 proposals, which were posted Monday to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History website.

Members Sherri Carr Bevis, left, T.J. Taylor, center and J. Mack Varner, confer following the first meeting of the Flag Commission, Wednesday, July 22, 2020 in Jackson, Miss. The group has the duty to design a new Mississippi flag without the Confederate battle emblem and the banner must include the phrase, "In God We Trust." (AP PhotoRogelio V. Solis)

By early September, commissioners will agree on a single design to put on the Nov. 3 statewide ballot. The commissioners — who were appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker — could accept one of the public submissions, combine elements from different designs or start from scratch and draw their own.

An expert, Clay Moss, told commissioners last week that the best flag designs are simple and distinctive. He cited the Texas flag as a good example: The lone-star design is easy to draw and easy to recognize.

Some of the public submissions in Mississippi achieved simplicity. Others were complicated with squiggles, lots of stripes and flourishes including ivy, eagles, ducks, mockingbirds, deer, bees and catfish.

A Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol honor guard carefully folds the retired Mississippi state flag after it was raised over the Capitol grounds one final time in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, July 1, 2020. The banner was the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem on it. (AP PhotoRogelio V. Solis)

Some designs looked professional in their presentation. Others were hand-drawn with crayons or pencils.

Some protested the religious slogan requirement. One was a white rectangle with four phrases in black letters:

“In Yaweh we trust"

“In God we trust”

“In Allah we trust”

“no establishment of religion.”

Mississippi had used the same Confederate-themed flag since 1894, when white supremacists in the Legislature set the design amid backlash to political power that African Americans gained during Reconstruction. People who voted in a 2001 election chose to keep the flag, but the symbol remained divisive in a state with a 38% Black population.

All eight of Mississippi’s public universities and a growing number of cities and counties stopped flying the state flag in recent years.

For decades, Mississippi legislative leaders said they couldn’t find consensus in the House and Senate to change the banner. Republican Tate Reeves was elected governor in 2019 after saying that if the flag were to be reconsidered, it should only be done in another election.

Momentum shifted in early June, when protests over racial injustice reinvigorated debates about Confederate symbols. Within weeks, leaders from business, religion, education and sports were lobbying Mississippi legislators to ditch the flag and replace it with a more inclusive design. Reeves agreed to sign the bill to retire the old flag after it became clear that legislators had the two-thirds majority they would need to override a veto.

If voters accept the commission's proposal, that design will become the new flag. If they reject it, commissioners will draw a new design and that will go on the ballot later.

Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.