Mississippi offering new plate design without Confederate symbol

Mississippi faces reckoning on Confederate emblem flag

Mississippians who’d like to display their state flag minus its Confederate imagery can rejoice in a newly approved specialty license plate.

The state’s flag has long contained an image of the Confederate battle flag, also known as the Southern Cross. Mississippi is the only one of the United States with a flag featuring the Confederate symbol.

However, Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill last week allowing a new license plate design featuring a revamped state flag by artist Laurin Stennis.

Stennis’ design, done in 2014, eliminated the Confederate symbol. Instead, it features 19 stars in a circle around a large center star and a red stripe on either side.

The large star in the middle represents Mississippi as the 20th state to join the Union in 1817, Stennis said. The circle of stars symbolizes unity and continuity and pays tribute to the circle and spiral imagery of indigenous peoples’ artwork, the artist added.

“The circle is very powerful because there’s no beginning and no end,” Stennis said. “Our current flag feels very stuck in time. The new flag allows us to look back in history and also look forward.”

Proceeds will benefit history museums

The specialty plates cost $33 in addition to the the regular tag fee and will be available starting July 1. Mississippi residents are able to preorder them now.

Proceeds from the license plates will go to the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

“Those museums have done such a wonderful job of being stewards of the Mississippi story, warts and all,” Stennis said. “It can be a beautiful story, but also a really scary and dark story.”

The debate over the flag

Mississippi’s flag has included the Confederate emblem — a blue cross with 13 stars over a red background — since 1894. Critics of the state flag say it’s racist, while others believe it’s a crucial part of the state’s history.

The last time the state considered changing the flag was in 2001. However, 65% of voters chose then to keep the flag with the Confederate symbol instead of switching to 20 white stars on a blue field to represent Mississippi’s status as the 20th state.

Several cities and public universities, including the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, have ceased to fly the controversial state flag.

Stennis, who was born and raised in Mississippi, said she designed her flag after she felt she could not put up the official state flag because of its Confederate imagery.

“I feel happy and proud of my state, and I want us to be able to tell our story in a more complete way,” she said.