MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Wednesday, July 29th.
You’re listening to The World and Everything in It. And we’re glad to have you along today! Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
Coming next: Unfurling a new flag. In June, Mississippi lawmakers voted to remove their state flag. This came after decades of debates regarding the image that sat in its left top corner—a Confederate battle emblem.
BASHAM: But what happens now … when the state no longer has a flag to fly? Senior correspondent Kim Henderson has the story.
KIM HENDERSON, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: The Complete Flag Source store sits on a frontage road that runs beside the main interstate in Jackson, Mississippi. It sells flags as big as 30 by 60 feet, and some as small as your hand.
SOUND: INSIDE THE STORE
They have historic flags, state flags, and some for every branch of the military. There’s an Israeli flag near the ceiling, and one for the Auburn Tigers hanging on a rack.
But one flag is noticeably absent.
MCINTYRE: It’s been very, very busy. The whole United States has sold out of Mississippi flags. So it’s not just Mississippi . . .
That’s store co-owner Brenda McIntyre. She says Mississippi’s most recent flag—the one that is no longer—is backordered with all her vendors. Collectors are making a rush on them.
SOUND: MINNEAPOLIS RIOTS
George Floyd’s death in Minnesota had a rippling effect in Mississippi. But instead of riots, heated discussions about the state flag rose to the surface…discussions that had been simmering for decades.
That became a concern for Shawn Parker, head of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
PARKER: I and other leaders in Mississippi Baptist life, began to ponder and pray about whether we should make a statement.
The view from Parker’s office includes a wide sweep of the state capitol building, the place where legislators vote on issues like the flag. One day he looked out on that scene during a Zoom call with several former presidents of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. They talked about what they saw happening in their state.
PARKER: Far too many times in these kinds of discussions, economics drive the decision, or in this case, athletics, uh, threatened to drive the decision . . . we really feel that, that there was a moral dimension to this, and we felt it was our responsibility as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ to provide the moral voice on the issue.
NEWSCASTER: Well, the state’s Baptist Convention is also taking a stand on the issue of the state flag…
Soon, Parker had a press conference where he read a statement approved by members of his executive committee. Mississippi Baptists went on record requesting the state adopt a new flag.
PARKER: [0:20] Currently, 38 percent of Mississippi is Black, and many of those Mississippians are hurt and shamed by the historical symbolism of the current flag. For those who follow Christ to stand by indifferently and allow this to exist is inconsistent with both these two teachings of Christ. This reality calls us as brothers and sisters in Christ to stand up and help our hurting neighbor.
Parker says they’ve received lots of support for the statement. And also some criticism.
PARKER: They feel like we shouldn’t be involved in politics. They are concerned that we are violating a vote of the people in 2001 . . .
The Baptists’ pronounced involvement in the public debate was out of the norm. But so was the legislative action that followed it. It took a two-thirds majority of Mississippi’s House and Senate to suspend bill-filing deadlines. That had to happen before the flag change effort could even get rolling. But it did happen, plus a vote and a governor’s signing ceremony. All within a span of four days.
SOUND: LEGISLATIVE VOTE AND APPLAUSE
And with that, the Confederate battle emblem was no longer part of any state flag in the nation.
But getting a new flag is a process. Top politicians took part in a ceremonial retiring of the Capitol’s flags to the Museum of Mississippi History. State employees have removed flags from public buildings. The Department of Archives and History is fielding calls about proper flag disposal.
Also, officials have invited the public to submit design proposals for the new flag. The deadline for submissions is Saturday, August 1st. More than 600 entries have already rolled in.
SOUND: DISCUSSING SIZE OF FLAG
Back at the flag store, employees are helping Linda Freeman put the finishing touches on the scan of her acrylic design for the contest.
FREEMAN: What my flag says is it’s a statement of peace . . . It’s the state flower—a magnolia—with a red ribbon and kind of a . . royal blue background, and it has a touch of gold in it. And I thought the gold was important because I was thinking we all need to remember the Golden Rule.
Pointing out the simplicity of her canvas, Freeman admits she’s an amateur artist.
FREEMAN: I called several people that are really good artists and mentioned it to them and didn’t think they were going to do it, and I thought, “I’ll just do it myself.” . . . We have the opportunity to participate and have a voice, and I thought it was important for people to participate.
Not too far from Freeman, customer Jeff Cook is completing his purchase. He’s a lifelong Mississippi resident. He’s excited about a new flag.
COOK: The more I studied the times of 1894 . . . and what that flag meant at that time . . . I realized that that is not something that needed to continue. . . It was just a study of history. The more I dug into it, the more I was just speechless. And that is not Mississippi. That is not us at all. It’s who we were back then, unfortunately, but it is not who we are now.
A nine-member commission will have the difficult task of choosing the final design for the November 3rd ballot.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Jackson, Mississippi.