Remembering 2001: Voters choose to make current state flag official

Surprise revelation from Supreme Court prompted historic vote nearly 20 years ago

Remembering 2001: Voters choose to make current state flag official

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The state flag hasn’t been this hotly debated since 20 years ago, when voters decided to keep it. That vote was triggered by a surprising revelation by the State Supreme Court.

The Mississippi chapter of the NAACP filed a lawsuit in 1993 to prohibit further display of the state flag, because of its Confederate imagery. The suit wound its way all the way up to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which ruled in 2000 that Mississippi had no official state flag, because it was not included in the state code from 1906.

Governor Ronnie Musgrove formed a commission to study the issue and recommend what to do next.

“We want a good, open, honest discussion and a conclusion that is reached that is in the best interest of Mississippi,” Musgrove said at the time.

The commission was chaired by William Winter, who had served as governor from 1980 to 1984 and had long been a champion of racial reconciliation.

Former governor William Winter in 2000
Former governor William Winter in 2000 (Source: WLBT Archives)

“We don’t need to get into a big fight over this issue,” Winter said at the time.

Winter’s Flag Commission held a series of meetings and hosted often heated public forums across the state. The forums stirred sometimes emotional debate over whether to change the flag.

The commission submitted its recommendation to the legislature in December of 2000: Let the voters decide whether to formally adopt the 1894 flag as the official state flag, or choose a new design provided by the commission.

New state flag proposed in 2001
New state flag proposed in 2001 (Source: WLBT Archives)

“It is absolutely, I think, the best approach to getting Mississippi beyond this point,” said Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, at the time.

The legislature scheduled the referendum for April 17, 2001. More Mississippians went to the polls that day than had voted in the previous gubernatorial election. Sixty-four percent of them chose the 1894 flag over the alternative.

Current Mississippi flag
Current Mississippi flag (Source: WLBT)

It has been the official flag of the State of Mississippi ever since.

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