For many people, for many reasons, 2020 was a life-changing year. Sue Anna Joe, Dominique Pugh and Rocky Vaughan remember it as a time when they got to be a part of history.

Mississippi history, that is.

The three Mississippi State alumni are among those credited with designing Mississippi’s newly adopted state flag.

“I was very proud to see Gov. Reeves sign House Bill 1796 because I felt like it could be a step toward healing for our state,” said Joe of the bill that established the nine-member Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag. The commission received more than 3,000 design submissions and ultimately selected the “In God We Trust Flag” to appear on the November 2020 ballot.

Sherri Carr Bevis, the MSU Alumni Association’s 2019-21 national president, served on the state flag redesign commission at the invitation of Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann.

“Mississippi has always been very gifted with a lot of talent—writers, musicians, athletes, artists—and I think the new flag says a lot about the richness of the culture and talent in our state,” the 1986 communication graduate said. “Our new flag has really brought our state together in such a positive way. We all have different beliefs and opinions, but we now have a symbol that can unite all Mississippians and make us proud.”

Ackerman native Vaughan, who studied graphic design and illustration at MSU in the late 1990s, is the creative mind behind the new flag’s overall layout. He said each of the design’s three primary colors has a specific meaning. The blue background echoes the blue of the American flag. The bands of red represent hardiness and valor, and the gold lines and stamen of the magnolia blossom are a nod to the state’s rich cultural history, specifically the arts.

“The old flag was a bad black eye, and Mississippi doesn’t deserve that,” Vaughan said. “We needed something that represents the true Mississippi. I wanted to design something that is simple, looks sharp and represents all of us. Working on the new magnolia flag has been an honor.”

A native of Greenwood, Joe is credited with the magnolia blossom at the flag’s center. She explained that the state flower symbolizes longevity and perseverance, two characteristics she feels are common among Mississippians.

“Our state has been through a lot over the decades, and it has always bounced back because Mississippians are the kind of people who dig their heels in when they want to get something done and they see it through,” the 1998 communication graduate said. “My hope is that when Mississippians see the magnolia, they’ll think of home and say, ‘This is our flag.’”

“We needed something that represents the true Mississippi. I wanted to design something that is simple, looks sharp and represents all of us. Working on the new magnolia flag has been an honor.” ~ Rocky Vaughan

Joe, who has lived in San Francisco for eight years, said she was grateful for the chance to use her artistic talents to give back to her home state.

“Working on the new Mississippi flag design was one of the few things I enjoyed in 2020,” she said with a chuckle.

“I saw the flag on Twitter the morning after election day,” Joe recalled. “Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill had retweeted a video showing the flag going up on Mississippi State’s campus, and I saw photos and videos of other universities doing the same. To see people reacting enthusiastically was like Christmas morning. It was a good feeling.”

“A good feeling” is exactly how Pugh described her experience assisting with the new state flag design as well. As a freelance graphic designer for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the 2008 MSU art graduate made any design adjustments the flag commission requested as it narrowed down the design submissions.

“One of the elements that stands out the most to me is the golden star that represents the indigenous Native American tribes,” Pugh said, adding that the flag also features 20 white stars symbolizing Mississippi’s status as the 20th state in the union. “One of the commission members, Tribal Chief Cyrus Ben, is Native American, and he had the cool idea to incorporate that golden star.”

The West Point native said she also enjoyed learning from flag expert Clay Moss, who MDAH brought on to advise the flag commission. As required by House Bill 1796, the new flag had to include the words “In God We Trust.” The commission wanted to ensure the design also included three colors and meaningful symbolism, in accordance with proper flag design etiquette outlined by the North American Vexillological Association.

“I had no idea there are a lot of rules when it comes to designing a state flag, so it was pretty cool to have Clay to teach us and explain why certain elements needed to be included,”

Pugh said. “It was a ‘wow’ moment for me when I went to vote and saw the new flag on the screen. I hope other states will look at Mississippi differently now and see that we’re making a change and moving in a better direction.”

By Sasha Steinberg, Photos submitted