U.S. States that Changed their Flags and Why

The new Mississippi state flag, designed by Rocky Vaughan and approved by Mississippi voters this year.

The people have spoken, and the election results are in. Mississippi now has a new state flag!

You may have missed this news, given how much attention has been spent on the presidential election this year, and on the as-of-this-writing ongoing court battle over the results. However, there are always far more items on the ballot every four years than just who should be in the White House. In Mississippi, one of the questions voters were asked was which design should be adopted as their new state flag, and by a comfortable 72% margin, they chose the design above.

The new flag features a magnolia blossom, appropriate for the Magnolia State. It also features 20 stars, representing the fact that Mississippi is the 20th state, with the larger, golden star at the top representing the state’s indigenous peoples. The flag’s red, white, and blue colors are taken from the U.S. national flag, while the gold represents the state’s artistic and cultural heritage.

This flag will replace the previous flag that Mississippi had used since 1894:

Perhaps you can see why this flag had come to be regarded as controversial in recent years.

The old Mississippi flag incorporated as part of its design the battle flag of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia from the Civil War. Well, actually, the law that approved the design never once mentioned the Civil War or the Confederacy, and officially stated that the 13 stars in the flag represented the original Thirteen Colonies. However, the daughter of the flag’s designer stated that he intended for the flag to honor those rebels who fell while they “wore the gray”, and the governor who signed the law was a Confederate veteran.

This year, in the wake of the widespread protests, civil unrest, and riots that were sparked by the killing of George Floyd in police custody, Mississippi’s government decided that the old flag was no longer a fitting emblem for their state. The state’s Republican governor signed a law officially ditching the old flag and setting up a process for Mississippians to submit new design ideas, with a special commission assigned the task of picking the best design. The new flag would then go to the voters for final approval.

While this decision is great news for flag manufacturers, it’s far from the first time a state has changed its flag. We have discussed on this blog before the many, many flags that Georgia has flown over the decades. However, several other states have changed their flag for one reason or another. Here are a few of what I consider to be the more interesting examples.

Louisiana

When the election results of 1860 came in and Abraham Lincoln was named president-elect, many in the South feared the new president would abolish slavery. In an ironic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, many slave states announced that they would secede from the Union. Eventually, these states would join forces as the Confederate States of America. But for a brief moment, there was some consideration for the idea that these states would each go their separate ways and just be independent nations.

So it was that Louisiana decided to adopt a “national” flag in February 1861:

This flag was intended to feature the heritage of Louisiana by including the colors red, white, blue, and gold, representing France, Spain, and Britain, while also stylistically resembling the U.S. flag. This flag didn’t have a very long life, though, as Union forces soon occupied the state.

As we have discussed on Cat Flag before, Union victory swept away any appetite for any state flag until the rise of the World’s Fairs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The desire of each state to distinguish itself at these fairs with a distinctive flag gave rise to many of our modern state flags, including the modern flag of Louisiana:

This flag was officially adopted in 1912. The pelican is supposed to be pricking its own skin to feed its chicks with its own blood. I’m told this represents the state’s Catholic piety. Somehow.

Funnily enough, since Louisiana never officially repealed the 1861 law adopting their first flag, some argue that both flags are still official flags of the state.

Maine

This one is a very disappointing story, from the point of view of a fan of flags such as myself. In 1901, Maine decided to adopt a cream-colored flag featuring a pine tree and blue star:

Reminds me a bit of the California flag

This design lasted all of eight years before being replaced. See, Civil War veterans in northern states liked state flags that reminded them of their old regimental banners, and pushed for their states to adopt the hideous state-seal-on-a-plain-blue-banner design that so many states now use. Maine was no exception, ditching their original and interesting flag design for the one they use today:

Though there is an interesting bright side that has developed in recent years. More and more people in Maine are rediscovering the original flag design and flying it as private citizens, helping the old flag to make a comeback, 111 years later!

Oklahoma

In 1907, Oklahoma was admitted to the Union as the 46th state. In 1911, it adopted its first official state flag:

Wow. Just, so original Oklahoma. How creative.

Then, in 1917, the Russian Revolution broke out, and soon people and governments around the world were worried about the specter of Communism and socialist revolution reaching their own shores. In this environment, Oklahomans decided their flag looked too similar to a Commie banner to keep. A contest to redesign the flag was held in 1924. The winning design is still used today:

That’s much better!

This flag’s design is inspired by the state’s history as “Indian Territory”, where many tribes were relocated during the westward expansion of the United States. It features an olive branch crossed with a peace pipe, both superimposed on an Osage buffalo-skin shield from which seven eagle feathers dangle. You would be forgiven for not knowing this flag also features a reference to the Confederacy; the blue background is an homage to the flag flown by the Choctaw Brigade that fought the Union during the war.

Flags are an important symbol to the nation, state, or people that it represents, reflecting their history, their land, or their values. This is what I find so fascinating about flags, and why I love sharing this fascination with all of you. It’s also what makes changing a flag a very delicate matter that shouldn’t be taken lightly, given the attachment people feel for their flags. As we have seen in the previous installments in this series, for each proposed flag change that is adopted, there have been many proposals that get rejected for one reason or another.

Remember when New Zealand’s prime minister tried to replace this guy? Yeah, he’s still flying today.

That’s why what happened in Mississippi is so notable, and I’m glad that they let their voters decide if they liked the design enough to adopt it. Though, to be fair, I like their new flag’s design, too.

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