Mississippi flag design process: Elvis has left the building

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A member of the state Department of Archives and History prepares a handout of materials on how to design a flag for members, 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 Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The new Mississippi state flag will not include beer cans, crawfish, a caramel cake, Elvis or Kermit the Frog.

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

The public submitted nearly 3,000 designs, and the commission narrowed that to 147 proposals that were posted Monday to the state Department of Archives and History website. Lost in the first round were designs with food items and celebrities.

Many of the remaining designs have magnolias and stars. Some have wavy lines that could represent the waters of the Mississippi River or the Gulf of Mexico. The oddball among the survivors has a giant mosquito surrounded by a circle of stars.

On Friday, the nine commissioners will meet and choose the final five. By early September, they 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.

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, after the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The Black man’s death sparked global protests against racial injustice and reinvigorated debates about Confederate symbols. Within weeks, leaders from business, religion and education were lobbying Mississippi legislators to ditch the flag and replace it with a more inclusive design.

Two college sports organizations leveraged their power. The Southeastern Conference said it might bar league championships in Mississippi unless the state changed the flag. The NCAA said that because of the Confederate symbol on the flag, Mississippi could not host events determined by teams’ performances, which would affect sports such as baseball, women’s basketball and softball.

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.

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

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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