This should be Mississippi’s state flag. And with enough support, it could be.

Published 7:00 am Monday, January 15, 2018

When Laurin Stennis moved back to Mississippi after 16 years away, she felt the repatriate’s urge to display her home state pride.

Naturally, she says, she wanted to include the state flag.

“But I couldn’t,” she says. “I wouldn’t. Not as it is. And frankly, I thought: This is ridiculous.”

She’s far from the only one to feel that way about the current state flag, the only one in the nation still displaying a Confederate emblem.

But Stennis has a tool most others don’t: She’s an artist. So she began a study of flags and became something of an expert. Eventually, the prospect of a just-as-bad replacement spurred her to action.

“When I learned that the ‘Magnolia Flag,’ the only other design you ever hear anyone ever mention as a serious contender, was never actually an official flag of our state but was the official flag of secession of the Republic of Mississippi, commissioned and adopted in 1861, I was, like, ‘That’s it. I’m getting out my crayons.’”

Roughly four years later, the result is a flag design that is gaining support – and display – around the state.

Flanked by red bars, the white center features 19 small blue stars around a larger 20th, representing Mississippi’s status as the 20th state. A website, declaremississippi.com, offers more information and merchandise and, of course, there’s a Facebook page, Mississippi: I Declare.

“To me, that is true small-‘d’ democracy in action,” Stennis said. “It’s absolutely how it should happen.”

Of course for anything to happen officially, the Legislature has to act. Barring additional bills on Monday, the Mississippi House has four measures calling for a new flag. One proposes that secessionist Magnolia Flag not as a replacement, but an addition – which would give the state two Confederate symbols. One proposes the design soundly rejected by voters in the 2001 statewide referendum.

And two, HB 316 and HB 702, propose what has come to be known as the Stennis flag.

The name lends certain credibility. Stennis is the daughter of a late state representative and the granddaughter of a late United States senator, John Hampton Stennis and John C. Stennis. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.

The three tenets Stennis adheres to for the flag effort are positive, grassroots and bipartisan.

“At the end of the day, this is to be the flag of every Mississippian,” she said. “So I am very protective of its good spirit.”

As it happens, that’s pretty much exactly what House Speaker Philip Gunn, who supports dumping that current flag, wants.

“The Speaker supports adopting a flag that represents all Mississippians,” according to his spokeswoman, Meg Annison.

Do not, however, read that as predicting success for the Stennis flag bills.

“Currently, there are not enough votes in the House to change the flag,” Annison said. And without that, no bill is likely to make it out of the Rules Committee, where they now reside and where a dozen bills, including one for the Stennis flag, died last year.

Stennis has hope for a better outcome this year, particularly if people will contact their legislators to voice support. And, in case you’re wondering:

Stennis has made a bit of money off t-shirt sales, but not enough to cover all the expenses in promoting the design, she said.

She gave the design to A Complete Flag Source, a Mississippi-owned business in Jackson, which sells three sizes, in addition to stickers, decals and a car tag.

“It’s very popular,” said Brenda McIntyre, who owns the store with her husband. “There’s a lot of interest in this flag.”

As well there should be. It’s a beautiful symbol for Mississippi, one we don’t have to hide or hide from. Its time should come.