Until June, Mississippi was the only state in the nation to still have the Confederate battle emblem on its flag.
(CN) — Mississippi is one step closer to picking a new state flag after a commission on Tuesday advanced five final designs from the thousands of submissions received to replace the Confederate-themed flag brought down by lawmakers in June amid nationwide calls for racial justice.
Three of the five finalists bear the state’s flower, the magnolia, in the center with 21 stars surrounding it. One features a magnolia tree, and a fifth flag design contains a red, white and blue shield with a single star above it.
All have the words “In God We Trust” inscribed on them, a requirement that the Republican-controlled Legislature voted on when the historic measure to change the state flag passed two months ago.
“When the flag came down it was one of the great days of my life, so what came up made little to no difference to me,” said Reuben Anderson, a former state Supreme Court justice who chairs the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag. “But we’re at a point now where a decision needs to be made and I’m going to vote to break the tie.”
Anderson’s tie-breaking vote for the shield-themed flag was needed Tuesday morning after the nine-member commission debated the top nine flag designs that were unveiled Friday. Commissioners had narrowed about 3,000 submissions to 147 last week, but postponed their plan to vote on the top five until Tuesday.
A final design will be voted on in the November general elections. If voters reject the design, the commission would be tasked with introducing a new flag design to the Legislature during the 2021 session.
Calls for racial justice and police reform sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police officers in May, have led to the removal of Confederate monuments and widespread protests nationwide.
Mississippi had been the only state in the nation to still have the Confederate battle emblem on its flag, which had been the subject of several unsuccessful legal challenges. Republican Governor Tate Reeves officially retired the Confederate symbol from the 126 year-old flag in June.
But at least some Mississippians remain in support of the outgoing flag’s controversial theme. Organizers of a group called Let Mississippi Vote announced Monday that it would seek to place the old flag on the November ballot, along with three others.
“With the historic flag vote in Jackson, our legislators stole our voice from us,” the organization says on its website.
The group would need to overcome the obstacle of gathering at least 106,190 certified signatures for their initiative to be placed on the ballot, spread evenly from the five congressional districts as they were drawn 20 years ago, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office.
After alterations to the top five flags are completed, based on recommendations from commissioners, the designs will be available for public view and commenting beginning Aug. 25 on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History website. They will also be flown over the old state capitol building.
Commissioners will then vote to select a final flag to submit to the governor and Legislature on Sept. 2.