Regardless of which design flies across the state after November, creators of the potential new state flag and its runner-up share a similar goal for Mississippi.
When Sue Anna Joe saw Gov. Tate Reeves sign the bill ordering for a new flag design in late June, she decided against submitting her own. Somehow, though, by late July, she had completed the magnolia design that is now seen on the “In God We Trust Flag.”
Joe believes the new flag will be a step in the right direction for unifying Missisippians.
“My hope is that it is something that everybody can look at and be proud of,” Joe said. “The thing is, symbolism is such a powerful thing. It’s not just a flag, it’s something that people can unite under. It ends up being a thing that we all have in common, and it’s something that we can say represents us as one people.”
Joe was born and raised in Greenwood, but she now lives in San Francisco working on and off as a web developer. Though she majored in communications at Mississippi State University, she has always had a passion for art and design.
While the magnolia is both the state tree and the state flower, it holds a different significance for Joe. For her, the magnolia flower is a symbol of perseverance and longevity. Seeing the flower always brings back feelings of home and the Mississippians who embody these qualities.
“I think that people were starting to want to move forward,” Joe said. “I know that in the last few times I have been back to visit my family in Greenwood, it just seems like people wanted better for themselves. It’s hard to put my finger on how I can feel that. The people in Mississippi really want the state to move out of last place in all these state rankings.”
The complete design of the flag is attributed to Rocky Vaughn, with Joe’s magnolia and other design elements added and edited by Joe, Kara Giles and Dominique Pugh.
Giles, the executive assistant to Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill, had a special affinity for Joe’s magnolia and played an integral role in the flags final design. Giles and Pugh went back and forth making tweaks to the design over the span of three to four weeks.
“The person just looking at it doesnt think about why a font was chosen, how much space is between each letter, how balanced it is and what the width of the stripes should be, but that’s what designers do,” Giles said.
Giles has not yet fully realised the magnitude of her work being selected.
“I’m very proud, it’s still sort of yet to sink in,” Giles said. “The other night I was at a football game. They were presenting the colors, and there was no Mississippi state flag. Somebody looked at me and was like, ‘Next year, your flag could be out there.’”
She wrote the narrative giving descriptions of each aspect of the potential new state flag that can be found on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History website.
Out of the final five flags that the commission selected for voting on Aug. 15, only one did not contain a magnolia flower.
Instead, the runner-up “Great River” flag prominently displayed a shield inspired by the 1798 seal of the Mississippi territory. Micah Whitson, UM graduate and founder of letterpress business OldTry, designed the flag and sprang at the opportunity to present something different.
Whitson said he approached the task with the thought, ‘If a designer would have designed something differently at statehood, what could they have made that would still be flying?’
Mississippi’s history is important to Whitson, so he spent time sifting through old designs until he found the seal and authentic lettering to match. His goal was to maintain the state’s roots while reflecting where the state is now.
“We can celebrate Faulkner, but we can also celebrate Rick Ross,” Whitson said. “It’s not about the old, it’s about the old and the now… We should find something that can represent all the complexity that is Mississippi.”
Whitson, who has lived in Boston for several years, said he sees how people in other parts of the country can view Mississippi, but he still has pride in the state. It is a similar passion for Joe, loving Mississippi, its people and aspiring to move it out of the nation’s scrutiny.
As important as a flag is to a state’s image, Whitson believes it’s up to the people to make the changes they want to see.
“I think that flags are only as strong or as meaningful as the people who come together to define what that flag is for,” Whitson said.