We asked Black artists from Mississippi to design a new state flag

Updated 10th July 2020
Credit: Reshonda Perryman
We asked Black artists from Mississippi to design a new state flag
Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN
What should Mississippi's new state flag look like? Voters in November will have the chance to choose a design that best represents the identity of the Magnolia state, following the retirement of their state flag.
The old design, which was adopted in 1894, was the last US state flag to bear the emblem of the confederate battle flag. On June 30, Mississippi governor Tate Reeves signed a bill from the state Legislature to do away with the flag in the wake of widespread racial justice protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the country have re-ignited nation-wide debate about confederate statues, and some have come down at the hands of protestors or local governments.
In the midst of discussions about what future monuments and other symbols should look like, we reached out to five Black emerging artists who grew up in Mississippi with the prompt to reimagine the state flag. Here's what they came back with.
Dante Johnson
Age: 24
Location: Gulfport, MS
Artistic focus: Illustrative logo design and drawing
Dante Johnson's design places the state flower, the magnolia, as the centerpiece, and his concept looks to unite his home state. "Most Mississippians have very strong southern pride," he said. "Unfortunately, that also has its drawbacks. Southern states tend to be more stubborn when it comes to change, the questioning of values or one's own personal beliefs."
In his flag, "the seeds in the center star represent the youth that hold the future in their hands," he explained. Olive branches, symbolizing peace, cradle the central elements. "These olive branches represent an era of change, something that attempts to symbolize bridging the divide that is so strongly present in Mississippi."
Robin Martéa
Age: 33
Location: Jackson, MS
Artistic focus: Children's illustrations
When thinking of her concept Robin Martéa looked to the state flags of California, Arizona, Maryland, Wyoming and South Carolina -- the favorite designs of her friends and family members. "These flags are stylish, simplistic and progressive," she explained over email. "I wanted to follow the same formula."
Martéa's design is non-traditional and celebratory, reflecting her own artistic practice, which often features uplifting, hopeful imagery.
"I loved the idea of using the Mississippi state bird, which is the Mockingbird," she added. "What better way to depict freedom and progression than a bird? The colors that I chose, which are blue tones with yellow, signify peacefulness and joy."
Reshonda Perryman
Age: 31
Location: Jackson, MS
Artistic focus: Graphic design
The image that Reshonda Perryman holds of Mississppi is much more positive than she thinks her state is given credit for. "The hospitality here knows no bounds. The calm, slow pace, the amazing food, the beautiful landscape, the diversity and the amazingly talented people are all things that make me proud to call Mississippi home," she said over email. "However, Mississippi holds a stigma that to some is simply unshakeable. Our tarred history and the unyielding, controversial views of some Mississippians paint a picture quite different from mine."
In her flag, a graphic take on the letter M, "the singular star (in the lower right corner) represents one harmonious Mississippi," she explained. "I used different hues of the traditional red, white and blue: the deeper navy to symbolize stability and unity, the brighter red for courage, passion and strength and the white for light and purity."
Qin Mobley
Age: 30
Location: Moss Point, MS
Artistic focus: Illustration, graphic design, murals
Qin Mobley's favorite aspect of his home state is the connections he's forged in his town and beyond. "I've traveled all over the state and I've encountered some of the most wonderful people in the world," he said over email. "I take pride in being from Moss Point because it's a city that feels like a big family."
Mobley opted for a streamlined look that can be viewed from different angles. "I wanted the design to have simplicity, but still have elements that make it feel patriotic," he explained. The big change he thought an updated flag required was to consider "a better tomorrow," he said, so the main elements of the flags resemble arrows facing forward. He added: "I also wanted to change the shape of the flag to show that we are open to change. If you turn the flag right side up, it becomes the shape of an M."
Jyreme Mcmillon
Age: 36
Location: Meridian, MS
Artistic focus: Illustration, animation, visual development
Jyreme Mcmillon is upfront about the struggles that Mississippians face, but he sees changes on the horizon. "Poverty is a very real thing. A lot of young people find it easier to just move away and begin anew since there are far more opportunities elsewhere than here," he said over email. "Despite the problems facing the state, there are real signs of growth in the younger generations. They are more open and able to see past color and backgrounds and I still find myself surprised because it is almost hidden behind this veil of bigotry and hatred that has harmed this state's image."
Mcmillion's design uses a single star to represent Mississippi, with the state flower in its center. Though he kept the traditional colors of red, white and blue, he sees blue representing peace, white symbolizing innocence and red for "the determination and hard-fought battles for civil rights," he explained. "Despite the shortcomings of this state, it is still full of hardworking and inspiring people who seek for nothing more than representation in a positive light."
All of the artwork featured has been specially commissioned by CNN Style for this story.