The Mississippi state flag design has been a source of much controversy in recent years. Mississippi native Laurin Stennis has offered a solution to the problem.
Stennis was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She took a 17-year tour of the Southeast, and after settling in Jackson, she saw the need for a change.
“In modern times, a state flag really serves as a state’s logo,” she said. “If any company had a logo that hurt its morale and bottom line the way ours does, it would change it in a heartbeat. We’re being reckless and irresponsible as CEOs of our state not to address this immediately.”
Stennis decided to take on the challenge herself and designed the Stennis flag.
“I wanted to fly a state flag from my home, but the one we have now goes well beyond simply representing a sense of place and a collective group of people and into the realm of political statements and beliefs,” she said. “While that is the role of some flags, I do not believe it to be the role of a state flag. The fact that our current flag is constantly mired in controversy is case in point.”
Though the design process was long, it was worth it once she had designed her new flag.
“Though I didn’t care for its design, I initially considered backing the so-called ‘magnolia flag’ until I learned through my research that it was never actually a state flag,” she said. “Rather, it was commissioned and adopted by the newly seceded Republic of Mississippi in 1861. So, my first goal was to share this information far and wide. Many, like me, were unaware of its origins.”
Stennis said Mississippi is a conservative state, and she knew she wanted something to reflect that sensibility that was traditional and not too flashy.
“While having a flag that was a strong, stand-alone was of great importance,” she said, “having one that also paired well with the United States flag also ranked high on my list, so I matched the pantones of that flag exactly. Beyond that, capturing a sense of movement in time rather than stagnation was of great importance, as well as a sense of history plus hope, an appreciation for what has come before as well as an anticipation of what may lie ahead.”
Stennis said once she had an initial draft, she consulted with Ted Kaye, an internationally renowned flag guru and author of Good Flag, Bad Flag, about her design.
“He provided wonderful encouragement and excellent feedback, which improved my design,” she said. “When demand for the flag began to increase exponentially, I gave the artwork to A Complete Flag Source, a Mississippi-owned flag store in Jackson that has been selling it like hotcakes ever since. I make no money off of sticker or flag sales, and that’s where we are today.”
Stennis’ flag also represents a few different things, and holds a lot of meanings for the state of Mississippi.
“Nineteen stars form a circle around a larger center star, which represents Mississippi as the 20th state to join the Union in 1817,” she said. “The centering of the blue star on the field of white is an inverted ‘Bonnie Blue,’ a reference to the state’s secession in 1861-1865.
“The circular shape symbolizes wholeness and continuity, and is also drawn from artifacts of indigenous peoples to our region, particularly the Choctaw Nation. The red bars stand in opposition recognizing the passionate differences we sometimes harbor. The red color is in honor of those, military and civilian, who have given their lives in pursuit of liberty and justice for all.”
Getting the word out about her design could have been a challenging task, but she found the perfect way to do so.
“I joke that it has been a chick with a cell phone,” Stennis said. “I’ve relied almost entirely on social media and word of mouth. Folks also see the flags on houses and businesses and well as on cars and trucks out across the state. That has really helped get the word out as well. Ultimately, it’s a truly grassroots effort by Mississippians for Mississippi. As it should be.”
One particular group that has helped get the word out about her design is the Stennis Flag Flyers. Chris Roth, director of the organization, and offered information about what they do.
“We came together as a group in August of 2017 for the purpose of identifying an existing or new flag that would represent all of our citizens, and to have citizens throughout the state flying the selected flag,” Roth said. “The thought being that if the legislators decide to have a new flag, perhaps by having a flag that was already widely accepted, the process would not get bogged down or delayed over the selection of a flag. In looking at flag options, the Stennis Flag was selected. It was very thoughtfully designed, and as a new flag, was not associated with the flag of succession or the Jim Crowe era.”
The organization’s goal is, “to have as many citizens as possible flying the Stennis Flag throughout the state and adopting of a new state flag.”
Another goal is to help spread the word about the flag. This is done, “primarily through social media and the news media,” Roth said.
“If the Stennis Flag is adopted or another flag that represents all of our citizens, our objective will have been met,” Roth said. “Our goal is to promote a change in the state flag and the Stennis Flag is offered as a change for the better.
“A new flag will indicate that at least one of the vestiges of the Jim Crow era has been eliminated, that the association of our current flag and our state with the White Supremacy movement no longer exists. It will be one less negative impression that people have of our state, and citizens and all of our citizens can fly the flag with pride.”
The reception of the flag by Mississippians is different than many would think.
The design has been received, “very, very well,” Stennis said. “It is a beautiful, strong design, yes, but I think its warm reception is mostly due to the incredibly positive spirit that surrounds it. We do not shame anyone. We do not yell and scream. We do not judge other Mississippians. This is to be the flag of all Mississippians. We do not want anyone to feel disenfranchised by this symbol.
“To witness this truly bipartisan coalition rallying around this flag in today’s political climate is also a testament to its spirit. We can shake hands around this flag, then come out fighting about all sorts of other things later.”
Stennis has taken a different approach to making her flag the official design of the state.
“I never say put it in a museum or take it down about the current flag,” she said. “Instead, I encourage folks to stay focused on the future and the new flag and #PutItUp. Being united behind one design and becoming visible is very, very powerful. And remaining positive holds the state together through what is otherwise a potentially very divisive issue.
“This is crucial. I Iove this state and its people. Frankly, I resent it when I see people exploit this or any other issue to divide us. So, there is not only just a desire for change, but I have a desire for the process to be done in a respectful, positive manner. I’m as invested in that as in anything.”
Stennis also shared her thoughts on what she thinks needs to happen for her design to become the official state flag.
“Again, I think we need to communicate that we are acting in good faith toward all Mississippians,” she said, “that the process is made to be a clear win for everyone, not structured or communicated somehow as a win-lose. That is why this effort is as much about design as process. I cannot stress that enough.”
If her flag does become the official design, Stennis said it will mean to her, “We didn’t force anything through, and that we didn’t settle for just anything. That we witnessed good design for good people by way of a good process.”
“Flags are a signal of intention and direction,” she said. “We’ll be saying, with knowledge of our history and with great hope, we look ahead.”