Mississippi Highway Patrol officers retire the state flag outside of the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

The commission charged with presenting a new Mississippi state flag to voters in November on Tuesday heard from a vexillologist, or expert on flags.

“Simplicity,” Mississippi vexillologist Clay Moss told the commission, is the first rule of flag design. “A small child should be able to draw it from memory. Less is more … Keep it simple.”

The other four basic principles of flag design are to use meaningful symbolism, use only two to three basic colors, refrain from using lettering or seals and to be either distinctive or related.

Moss noted that the Mississippi Legislature has mandated the commission violate one of the principles — the commission must include the words “In God We Trust” on whatever design it approves and puts before voters. Moss said this could still be done in an aesthetically pleasing way — perhaps in a ribbon or emblem — and noted both Florida’s and Georgia’s flags include the same words.

The Mississippi Legislature, after decades of debate, voted to remove the 1894 state flag with its divisive Confederate battle emblem. The legislation it passed created the commission to choose a new flag to put before voters on the Nov. 3 ballot. Voters can either approve or reject the new design. If they reject it, the commission will go back to the drawing board, and present another design to voters next year.

Tuesday was the flag commission’s second meeting. Its nine members are appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker.

“We have a challenge before us,” said former state Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson, who was elected commission chairman last week. “I can assure you of one thing: We are going to adopt and approve a flag Mississippi can be proud of.”

The commission plans to begin reviewing the more than 1,000 flag designs the public has submitted — which will be available for the public to see on the Mississippi Department of Archives and history website starting Aug. 3 — and each select their favorite 25 by Aug. 7. The commission is free to come up with its own designs, or tweak or combine submitted ones.

Commissioners will then each rank their top 10 picks around the middle of next month and vote to narrow the list to a final five. There will be a public comment period for the top five, then the commission will pick a final design at a Sept. 2 meeting and submit that flag to the Legislature and secretary of state to be put on the ballot.

“I’m jealous of you, as a flag nerd,” Moss told commissioners on Tuesday. He also urged them to “be wide open” to designs and “have fun.”

Moss in a slide presentation showed commissioners various designs — good and bad — from flags across the country and the world. He pointed out intricacies of design tenets, such as putting emblems closer to the “hoist” side of the flag as opposed to the “fly” side.

“Horizontal stripes are generally better,” Moss said. “It’s been scientifically proven that the human brain identifies a horizontally striped flag easier. That’s why about 50% of the world’s flags have horizontal stripes, and 12% vertical.”

Moss told commissioners, “A lot of U.S. state flags are mundane.”

“There’s state seal after state seal,” he said.

Mississippi horticulturalist, author and gardening radio show host Felder Rushing attended Tuesday’s meeting. He’s not pitching a particular flag design, but is urging the commission to include the magnolia blossom in the new design. He gave commissioners a brochure he made advocating the magnolia blossom.

The brochure notes that Mississippi, the Magnolia State, during the Civil War had a state flag that included the magnolia tree. He said the new design should use “the flower, not the tree.”

“It’s on everything in Mississippi,” Rushing said. “It’s even on our quarter.

“The rest of the country has already moved on, leaving us with the daunting challenge of agreeing on a new state flag that will fly proudly long after we participants are gone,” Rushing’s brochure said. “And we can choose a symbol that either says something, or not.”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.