...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.
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