In July 2020, the Mississippi flag finally came down.
The state put out a call for submissions. Two rules: couldn’t contain Confederate imagery (!), had to contain the phrase In God We Trust. There were 3,800 submissions. Most contained a magnolia flower.
I gave myself the assignment of creating something that could’ve been designed at statehood. What could a designer in 1817 have created based on the inspiration and best practices of the day?
I designed and submitted the Great River Flag based on the territorial seal of 1789.
While the Commission picked a flag with a magnolia flower on it instead, my first nations star made it on that option. So, as it turns out, I’m now on Wikipedia and in the state archives. How cool is that?
But why stop here (other than being completely exhausted)? I also built out regional flags based on the design elements of the original.
The top five flew over the old state capital. And then there were two.
I first started designing twenty years ago, trying to give away free posters to Proud Larry’s in Oxford, Miss. I remembered this when I was sitting at the Larry’s bar back in January, mourning the loss of a close friend and mentor who helped encourage my craft.
When I saw the call for flag entries, then, I knew I had to jump in.
Had I ever designed a flag? Did I know how much work I’d put in? How many nights I’d lose sleep thinking about the ideas? Did I know how ugly the internet could get? No. But even if I did, I would do it again. In a heartbeat.
It is a rare occurrence for a designer where life experience (knowing Mississippi as an insider and an outsider) aligns with a life’s trade (a design portfolio based on typography and a decade-long art project based on connection to place), which aligns with the ability to perform a civic duty. For free. With little time. And 2,976,000 clients.
I’m proud of the Great River flag submission. I’m thankful for folks who helped bring the vision to life. For the council of the wise, for the hands of the busy, for the hearts of friends and strangers. I’m proud of the way we ran this thing. We kept it on the sunny side. We showed the potential and kept it hospitable. As is only fitting.
In a moment that feels like it has come full circle, I went from designing free Mississippi concert posters that nobody saw to designing free Mississippi flag designs that a lot of folks have.
I read someplace there were over 2,200 submissions that featured a magnolia. I’m not surprised to see a magnolia going on the ballot. I hope the voters of Mississippi vote it in with an overwhelming majority and then move on to focus on more pressing issues.
I have the distinction of being one of the few living state flag runner-ups. And maybe I’ll get a swing at the Massachusetts flag one day.
So. What will I tell my children about this experience? What advice can I pass along about this strange, trying, exciting, evolving season of life?
In a world of magnolias, don’t be afraid to offer a shield.
To Mississippi, with love,
Knowing what I do now about vexillology and best flag design practices, I would have submitted this piece. When you know better, do better, you know?