By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Nine commissioners designing a new Mississippi flag have the complicated task of choosing a simple design.
Mississippi recently retired the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem that's been widely condemned as racist.
An expert told commissioners last week that an effective flag is distinctive and easy to recognize from a distance. Clay Moss said a design with lots of small details might be a dud on a flagpole.
"A good design will resonate in people's hearts and create a sense of pride," he said.
Moss said Texas has the best-designed state flag. Children can draw the lone-star banner, and anyone with sewing skills can reproduce it.
"A lot of the U.S. state flags, of course, are - I want to be polite - mundane in terms of a recurring theme of state seal after state seal after state seal on a blue background, or maybe a different color background," Moss said.
The commission has members appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker. They will come up with a new design that cannot have the Confederate emblem and must include the phrase, "In God We Trust."
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History asked the public to submit flag ideas, with a Saturday deadline. Department spokesman Michael Morris said that by Friday, people had submitted more than 1,800 designs that meet the two criteria, plus some that do not.
Archives and History plans to post the public submissions that meet the criteria on its website by Monday.
By early September, the commission will agree on a design to put on the Nov. 3 statewide ballot. They could accept one of the public submissions, combine elements from different designs or start from scratch and draw their own.
"We're going to design and approve a flag that Mississippi can be proud of," said former state Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson, the commission chairman.
If voters accept the proposed design, it will become the new Mississippi flag. If they reject it, the commission will find a new design and that will go on the ballot later.
"There have only been four major U.S. state flag changes in the past 66 years, and Georgia's done it three times," Moss said.
Georgia put the Confederate battle emblem on its state flag in 1956, during a backlash to the civil rights movement. It purged the emblem from its flag in 2001, then redesigned the flag again in 2003.
The fourth major flag change is the one Mississippi's doing now, Moss said.
Mississippi had used the same Confederate-themed flag since 1894, when white supremacists in the Legislature set the design amid backlash to political power that African Americans gained during Reconstruction. People who voted in a 2001 election chose to keep the flag, but the symbol remained divisive in a state with a 38% Black population.
All eight of Mississippi's public universities and a growing number of cities and counties stopped flying the state flag in recent years.
For decades, Mississippi legislative leaders said they couldn't find consensus in the House and Senate to change the banner. Republican Tate Reeves was elected governor in 2019 after saying that if the flag were to be reconsidered, it should only be done in another election.
Momentum shifted in early June, when protests over racial injustice reinvigorated debates about Confederate symbols. Within weeks, leaders from business, religion, education and sports were lobbying Mississippi legislators to ditch the flag and replace it with a more inclusive design. Reeves agreed to sign the bill to retire the old flag after it became clear that legislators had the two-thirds majority they would need to override a veto.
Moss told flag commissioners last week to "be open to all possibilities" and to have fun.
"I'm jealous," he said. "As a flag nerd, I can't think of a better place to be right now."
Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.
(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)