...Abandoned the Magnolia Flag and Made Her Own
January 22, 2018
by Paul Hampton
The Sun Herald
Laurin Stennis reaches up to the top shelf next to her desk for a decades-old memento from her late grandfather’s career.
“Look ahead,” says the inscription on the sign he kept on his desk. It’s her answer to people who say Sen. John Stennis would be rolling in his grave if he knew what his granddaughter was up to: Trying to convince the Mississippi Legislature to adopt a flag she designed as its official flag. Although Sen. Stennis voted to support segregation, she said, his stand softened later in life.
Today’s state flag, which a sizable part of the Mississippi population finds objectionable, has the Rebel Battle Flag in its upper left corner, an emblem that has been co-opted by the KKK and other racist organizations. It is the last flag in the U.S. that includes Confederate imagery. Sen. Stennis voted to support segregation, she said, a stand he softened later in life, voting in 1982 to extend the Voting Rights Act.
“He didn’t fly the flag,” she said. “This (Look ahead) is what he taught me. That, and always put Mississippi first.”
Her flag, which has come to be known as the Stennis Flag, would put Mississippi first, she reasons. She sees it as a modern logo for the state.
She is not trying to convince supporters of the current flag they are wrong.
She is not confronting city councils and other boards and asking them to take the flag down.
“My focus is primarily grassroots,” she said. “Let the people of Mississippi take this on themselves and come to it on their own.”
People, she said, resist the idea that something is being taken away.
“My hashtag is ‘put it up,’” she said. “In addition to a new flag, which I call a logo, I’m working with legislators on ways to protect our current flag, and the magnolia flag as historically significant civilian variants.”
She just doesn’t want to see those flags at official functions and on public buildings.
“When I moved back four years ago, I wanted to put out a state flag and never would,” she said. “It’s not something that as a Mississippian I felt was a symbol I was comfortable with. It’s not something that I identified with.”
For a while, she thought the magnolia flag was an alternative she could support even though she didn’t think it was visual appealing. And then she did some research.
“It was commissioned and designed by the newly seceded Republic of Mississippi and so was directly tied to our state’s secession,” she said. “That made it 0 for 2 in my book.”
The magnolia flag has emerged as a viable alternative on the Coast. Gulfport, for example, flies it and the state flag. The state would take a similar approach if a bill sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden were to pass. Then there are other bills that would require the current flag to be flown on public buildings.
Stennis Flag Flyers, a group independent of Stennis that began in Bay St. Louis, also would like to see the new flag adopted.
“The (current) flag has been usurped by the white supremacists,” said Chris Roth, a retired Bay St. Louis businessman who started the group. “Any late night comedian can throw us under the bus.”
He, like Stennis, said he wants a state logo he can be proud of. One that he would be proud to use to represent the state to the rest of the world.
Read the rest of this story.
And With Enough Support, It Could Be
January 15, 2018
Magnolia State Live
When Laurin Stennis moved back to Mississippi after 16 years away, she felt the repatriate’s urge to display her home state pride.
Naturally, she says, she wanted to include the state flag.
“But I couldn’t,” she says. “I wouldn’t. Not as it is. And frankly, I thought: This is ridiculous.”
She’s far from the only one to feel that way about the current state flag, the only one in the nation still displaying a Confederate emblem.
But Stennis has a tool most others don’t: She’s an artist. So she began a study of flags and became something of an expert. Eventually, the prospect of a just-as-bad replacement spurred her to action.
“When I learned that the ‘Magnolia Flag,’ the only other design you ever hear anyone ever mention as a serious contender, was never actually an official flag of our state but was the official flag of secession of the Republic of Mississippi, commissioned and adopted in 1861, I was, like, ‘That’s it. I’m getting out my crayons.’”
Roughly four years later, the result is a flag design that is gaining support – and display – around the state.
Flanked by red bars, the white center features 19 small blue stars around a larger 20th, representing Mississippi’s status as the 20th state. A website, declaremississippi.com, offers more information and merchandise and, of course, there’s a Facebook page, Mississippi: I Declare.
“To me, that is true small-‘d’ democracy in action,” Stennis said. “It’s absolutely how it should happen.”
Of course for anything to happen officially, the Legislature has to act. Barring additional bills on Monday, the Mississippi House has four measures calling for a new flag. One proposes that secessionist Magnolia Flag not as a replacement, but an addition – which would give the state two Confederate symbols. One proposes the design soundly rejected by voters in the 2001 statewide referendum.
And two, HB 316 and HB 702, propose what has come to be known as the Stennis flag.
Click here to read the rest of the article on the Magnolia State Live website.
The Weekly Northside Sun
A lot of Mississippians are happy with our existing state of affairs. Indeed, we are the most religious and generous state in the nation. We have great hunting and fishing, little pollution, great weather and plenty of room.
Mississippi is one of the least materialistic states in the country. Many Mississippians are more concerned with fearing God, helping others and being friendly than getting rich. Money isn’t everything.
But money helps. Good jobs are a good thing. Progress allows better health care, education, transportation and a host of other nice things.
So count me among the many Mississippians who would like to see economic progress in our state. As it stands now, Mississippi is losing population for the first time in 50 years.
How do we turn this around? What would Mississippi have to do to get on the economic fast track like North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia?
Mississippi is in the heart of the South, the fastest growing region of the richest country in the history of the world. There is an opportunity for growth.
But to grow, Mississippi has to attract outside people and outside money. This means paying attention to the impression we make to the rest of the country.
Mississippi needs to be seen throughout the nation as a progressive state, not a backward state. How do we do that?
It’s public relations. PR. We have to sell ourselves. That means focusing on an image that appeals to the rest of the nation and world, not just ourselves.
First off, change the flag. A flag is symbolic. The Confederate battle flag sends a terrible signal. We’re (literally) waving a flag to the rest of nation shouting, “Look at us! We’re stuck in the historic mud!”
Have you noticed how the national media seems to have given us a free pass on our flag? That’s because the nation collectively sighs and says, “Well, what do you expect? It’s Mississippi.” This is the worst possible way to attract outside investment.
This is not an argument about the Civil War or slavery or tradition or all the brave young men who sacrificed their lives 170 years ago. This is about shooting ourselves in the foot in terms of economic development. Our state is desperately in need of leadership on this issue. This will cost very little money.
Then there is education spending. When Mississippi has the lowest per pupil spending, it reinforces all the negative stereotypes about our state. We need to spend as much as the average of the southeastern states. It’s not the formula that matters. It’s the amount we spend compared with our neighboring states. Right now, we are the lowest and dropping.
Click here to continue reading on the Northside Sun website.
December 1, 2017
Jackson Free Press
A new grassroots group of Mississippians is advocating for replacing the controversial Mississippi flag for urging residents to fly a different one themselves. The Stennis Flag Flyers are based in Bay St. Louis on the Gulf Coast and encourage Mississippians to begin to fly Jackson artist Laurin Stennis' flag in place of the current one to encourage lawmakers to change the state flag.
Mississippi's flag features a Confederate battle emblem in its canton corner. While debates about how to change the state flag have flared up in the past few years, no legislation or ballot initiative has become a viable option for voters to change it.
Laurin Stennis is the granddaughter of late U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis and designed the banner in 2014. The flag is on a white background with red bars on either side. In the center, 19 smaller stars encircle a larger blue star, representing Mississippi joining the union as the 20th state. The circle of stars symbolizes wholeness and is "drawn from the artifacts of indigenous peoples to our region, particularly, the Choctaw Nation," a press release from the group says.
Chris Roth came up with the idea behind the Stennis Flag Flyers because he realized that if lawmakers decide to change the state flag, picking a design could slow down the process. The group is nonpartisan, including Republicans, Democrats and independents.
"I thought ... maybe we can short-circuit this process and get a flag that would be representative of all Mississippians and have that be a flag of choice when the time came," Roth told the Jackson Free Press.
Roth, who lives in Bay St. Louis, got together a group of people on the coast and told them about his idea. The Stennis Flag Flyers were born soon afterward.
"If we can get enough citizens—not special-interest groups—flying this flag, it may motivate the Legislature to make a change, and if so motivated, this is what they will change it to," Roth said.
Roth said the group does not plan to lobby or rally to change the flag, however, leaving that to other groups and lawmakers.
"It's an alternative strategy to what's going on now, and it gives the solid majority the opportunity to speak up simply by flying a flag, and if we can accomplish that, then we've accomplished a whole lot," he said.
The group is not selling the Stennis flag or profiting from sales, but Mississippians can purchase them at A Complete Flag Source in Jackson or online.
Read the rest of the article on the Jackson Free Press website.
New Grassroots Group Promotes Stennis Design as Official Mississippi Flag
A nonpartisan group of citizens and business leaders named Stennis Flag Flyers has launched a website and social media campaign promoting the adoption of what’s commonly known as the “Stennis design” as Mississippi’s official flag.
The grassroots group includes Republicans, Democrats, and Independents and is based in Bay St. Louis and Waveland on the Gulf Coast. Members plan to partner with individuals and organizations across the state to help raise awareness about the Stennis design and encourage its adoption by the Legislature. The website, www.stennisflagflyers.com, went live November 1st.
The Stennis flag design was created in 2014 by noted Mississippi artist, Laurin Stennis, granddaughter of the late Senator John C. Stennis (namesake of Stennis Space Center in Hancock County). John Stennis served in the Senate for more than 41 years, retiring in 1989.
The Stennis flag design is packed with symbolism, according to creator Laurin Stennis. At the design’s center is one large blue star, circled by 19 smaller ones, representing Mississippi’s place as the 20th state to join the union (1817). The circular shape “symbolizes wholeness and continuity and is also drawn from artifacts of indigenous peoples to our region, particularly, the Choctaw Nation.”
The design is bookended by two bars of red, which “stand in opposition, recognizing the passionate differences we sometimes harbor, as well as in honor of those who have given their lives in pursuit of liberty and justice for all.”
Recognition and support of the Stennis design have been building, especially over the past year. Several prominent state leaders have endorsed adopting a new symbol. The current flag, adopted in 1894, incorporates a Confederate battle flag, the last state flag in the United States to do so.
According to the website of Stennis Flag Flyers (SFF), the group’s goal is to “make the choice for an official new symbol an obvious one when the Legislature is ready to make the change. We believe the sooner the change comes, the faster the state will reap the benefits.
“In the meantime, hundreds, or even thousands, of citizens across the state flying the Stennis flag will send a positive message to those considering moving to or establishing a business in Mississippi. That message is this: while our citizens take pride in our sense of place, we also embrace a forward-thinking future.”
Stennis Flag Flyers is the brain-child of retired Bay St. Louis businessman Chris Roth. Roth says he believes that the Stennis design is one that the state’s diverse population can unite behind.
“We believe that an official state symbol that promotes harmony, rather than divisiveness can help advance the quality of life and economic standing of our citizens,” said Roth. “The Stennis design fits the bill. It’s beautiful and also possesses well-considered symbology that honors our past, while looking to the future.”
Chris Roth says that to become a Stennis Flag Flyer, one has only to fly one. Even displaying a sticker gets one “in the club.” The website and Facebook page both have galleries where new “members” can send in photos of their flags unfurled.
“We’re taking our mission of raising awareness of the Stennis design seriously, but approaching it in an upbeat, positive manner,” Roth said.
Neither the group nor Laurin Stennis is profiting from the sale of any flag. The website links to a Mississippi-owned source where people can order various sized flags, as well as Stennis flag stickers.
For more information, go to: www.stennisflagflyers.com
July 31, 2017
At the Southern Legislative Conference in Biloxi Monday, College Football Hall of Famer and former New Orleans Saint Archie Manning stated publicly that he is a proponent of changing the Mississippi state flag.
Nathan Fairley, with the Mississippi Rising Coalition, was the one to bring up the topic during a Q&A session at the end of Manning's speech.
"I heard before that he's a proponent of change for the Mississippi Flag, and I asked him about it in front of legislators from 15 different states," Fairley said. "Mississippi Rising believes it's important to be on the record, to say why we oppose flag, and meet with representatives to get the point across."
Legislators say Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn called for a closed, roundtable discussion on race relations at Monday's conference. According to those in attendance, an idea for a new state flag was brought up.
The flag, designed by Laurin Stennis, has 19 stars around a larger star, representing Mississippi being the 20th state to join the Union.
Read more on WLOX website...
Feb 22, 2016
Desire to change the state flag has spread from lawmakers to artists, as several bills circulate in the legislature to replace the current flag and its Confederate symbol. A new design by the granddaughter of former U.S. Senator John C. Stennis has the backing of one Jackson lawmaker.
Artist Laurin Stennis, 43, of Jackson created the flag two years ago to replace the current state flag. She chose 19 stars encircling a larger center star representing the 20th state in the union, and an inverted Bonnie Blue flag bordered by red.
The Jackson native wants the new version to help the state move forward.
"(My grandfather) did evolve, and he did change, and my father was evolved even further than that," said Stennis. Her father, John Hampton Stennis, served in the state legislature. "A way that my family's narrative, my artistic talent, and my love of my state could come together to produce an image that would be more fitting and something that would be more welcoming to all. Everybody would have a thread in the image."
Read more on WLOX website...
Feb 20, 2016
I have seen it. More importantly, I have felt it, with my hands and my heart.
I wish it would become our new state flag.
That it was designed by Jackson artist Laurin Stennis — the 42-year-old granddaughter of the late John C. Stennis, who served Mississippi as a U.S. senator for more than 41 years — makes the possibility even more special.
John Stennis did more for Mississippi and our country than 100 columns could cover. President Ronald Reagan said to him in 1988, “In troubled places, you have brought calm resolve.”
Perhaps through his granddaughter, it might happen again. But a deadline looms. House Bill 1548, introduced Feb. 8 by Rep. Kathy Sykes, D-Jackson, calls for adopting Laurin Stennis’ design as the the state’s official flag. The bill is in the House Rules Committee. It will die there at the end of the day Tuesday if not voted on and sent to the full House for a vote.
“If people want to see the bill passed, they should call or email their representative immediately,” Sykes said.
Reality says the odds of it staying alive during this session are slim. But Sykes' spreading the flag to the Rules Committee and having small replicas on legislators’ desks and in their minds are positive first steps.
Continue reading on Clarion-Ledger website...