Last week, as the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag made their final, and what seemed to me predetermined, selection of a design to be voted on by Mississippians in November, I tuned into the meeting live on the internet.
I wasn’t extremely moved by either of the final two options — I liked some of the green candidates with magnolias better — but was happy they chose the “New Magnolia” design over the “Great River” design.
After more debate over whether or not to vote on Wednesday rather than over which design was the best option to offer us — a debate that did not impress me — the group finally decided, by an 8-1 margin, on the magnolia version. What did impress me was the words that the chairman of the commission, former Supreme Court Justice Ruben Anderson, spoke to the commission in closing the meeting.
I’ve tried to transcribe them correctly but a word or two may or may not be out of place. Here, in part, is what he had to say.
This commission has been an absolute joy. To get to know each of you and thank you for the time and energy you put into this.
I don’t know how our leaders selected such a great group of people to take on this task, but I must say you did it.
I want to, on behalf of the state of Mississippi, thank the 3,000 people who made submissions for the design of the flag. That is unusual in and of itself.
There were 75,000 people who felt enough interest in this flag to vote for it and I think that is amazing.
I grew up in Mississippi in the 40s and 50s and all of my life Mississippi has been at the bottom — 50th! In whatever category you can think of, whether income, or healthcare, education, we’ve always been on the bottom. On Nov. 3rd I think that will change. We won’t move to the top, but I can assure you we’ll move.
And how in the world is it that Mississippi could be on the bottom with all the tremendous assets and resources that we have?
We have the greatest people, the most talented and gifted people. The greatest poets and authors...the musicians. We’re the birthplace of America’s music.
We have the most fertile soil. Anything will grow in Mississippi. From cotton, to watermelons, to catfish, it will grow here. We have timber, and oil and gas. The Mississippi river and 90 miles of beaches. There is no reason for us to be on the bottom.
We’ll be on the bottom all of my lifetime. But my children and grandchildren will see us ascend.
And it’ll happen because of what you have done to bring this great object to the people of Mississippi to vote on. I’m so thrilled that you decided to take the flower of the magnolia tree. A tree that’s been around 90 million years. (That is a true statement.)
The thing about a tree is that it is different than anything else. The oldest living organism on earth is the Methuselah tree that has been growing for 5,000 years in the desert of California. Five thousand years from now our flag will be growing, and showing, and blooming. And we’ll send a message to all of America that we are open for business. We’ll send a message that we live in the future and not in the past...
I think Anderson, the first African American to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court, made an excellent point. I know a lot of people are upset that the old flag was taken down, and that the governor and our legislators chose to do so without allowing a vote of the people.
I, for one, am not.
I do, on the other hand, disagree with those who want to tear down the statues and monuments that represent our history and those that perhaps even want to rewrite history. In my South, to quote William Faulkner, “the past is never dead. It is not even past.”
But I will add that I, like Anderson, look forward to living in the future.