This state flag's sure to suffer from flagging interest

I hadn't planned to opine on the state of our state flag, but the Mississippi Economic Council changed my mind.

The state Chamber of Commerce decided recently to back the proposed 20-star flag as an alternative to the de facto state flag, which the state Supreme Court told us last year wasn't legally the state flag after all.

The MEC's move made sense. It was politically correct. It underscored the reality that a state flag really is a business issue, because, in spite of the seeming insignificance of a rectangular piece of cloth or canvas, we really are a people steeped in symbolism.

Gov. Musgrove and other state business leaders have hinted that Nissan wouldn't have come to Mississippi with their nearly $1 billion investment if they had doubts about our ability to resolve the sensitive flag issue.

Publicly, we've not been told that Nissan was promised a change, but they were promised a peaceable resolution.

And so the MEC flatly and correctly stated nine days ago, "This is a business decision. ... Those outside our borders still struggle with conflicting images of our state ... many of them not so positive."

The oblique reference to the Confederate battle flag corner of the current de facto flag sums up the double-edged sword of symbolism.

Do you change negatively perceived symbols for the benefit of the offended and afflicted at the expense of those who revere the symbols?

Yes.

Think swastika.

Get the picture?

So the MEC's decision to recommend a new flag is a fiscally correct and politically correct decision, a wise decision.

But there's something troubling about this process of finding the right flag. And it has to do with lost opportunity. It has everything to do with the power of a symbol.

History is nothing if not a leaving, breathing fabric of all our lives.

Former Gov. William Winter wrote last year of his desire to see a state flag that spoke and sang the eloquence of Eudora Welty and Leontyne Price.

Why then do we produce a 20-star salute to boredom and billowing banality?

This week I scanned down the colorful array of other state flags, and there are a fair share of clinkers in the bunch, to be sure.

But looking at the great bear of California, the glorious sunrise of Arizona, the brave buffalo of Wyoming, the plucky pelican of Louisiana, and the ascendant eagles of Iowa and Illinois and North Dakota, why do we get stuck with a flag-by-committee field of obscure stars and stripes.

One would have to endure the current flag crisis to grasp the formula of 13 colonies plus six flags over Mississippi plus the new all-inclusive big star of Mississippi equals 20 degrees of something.

Talk about your abstractions.

Pity the poor out-of-state person to whom we're trying to make a statement about who we are. Many of them, on the other hand, are students of U.S. history and can grasp the concept of 50 state stars flanked by 13 colonial stripes.

Now, the state Legislature is setting us up to be a state where the license plate outshines the state flag.

We once had the venerable magnolia on our state flag. Why not again?

If the Legislature wanted a referendum on the de facto flag, fine. But don't limit the future to one weak alternative.

We pride ourselves in offering the South's warmest welcome in tourism messages to millions. Why not, when the opportunity presents itself, offer the nation's warmest welcome on our flag?

Gary Perilloux is business editor of the Daily Journal.

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