A long-time community college leader and former board chair of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is serving on a nine-person commission that will submit a new state flag for Mississippi residents to vote on.
Mary Graham, president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, was appointed to the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag by state House Speaker Philip Gunn, who last month led state lawmakers to remove the former state flag that included the Confederate battle emblem. Gunn, Gov. Tate Reeves and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann each have three appointments to the commission.
“I was very pleased to know that our community colleges are going to have a voice in this historic decision,” said Graham, who was AACC board chair in 2017-18.
Graham is well-known at the state capital for her work on community college issues, having most recently served as chair of the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges. Public two-year colleges have a large footprint in the state with 15 community colleges and more than 500 instructional locations, serving over 200,000 students in the credit and workforce areas, Graham said. The lieutenant governor in particular lauds the value of community colleges’ leadership in workforce training in Mississippi.
A tight schedule
House Bill 1796 directs the commission to develop, design and report to the governor and legislature its recommendation for the design of the new state flag no later than September 14. The design will then go to voters on November 3. If approved, the new flag would fly sometime in 2021. If it is rejected, the commission would submit another design to be voted on next year.
The group had its first meeting last week, mainly to go over the process for selecting a new flag, including guidelines, time frames, strategies and more. It will meet again on Tuesday, when it will hear from a vexillologist – a person who studies flags – who will provide examples of good flag designs, bad ones, suggestions for layouts and more.
Among the legislature’s criteria, the new flag design cannot include the Confederate battle flag and must include the words “In God We Trust.”
The retired Mississippi flag had flown since 1894, though advocates for its change had recently come close to having it replaced.
Open to ideas
The commission is relatively open to receiving ideas, Graham said. Aside from members themselves crafting ideas or inviting artists and others, the commission is accepting suggestions from the public. By last week it already received about 600 submissions for the flag design. Graham herself has already fielded calls from residents offering their opinions.
“I think that’s good,” she said. “As a community college president, you naturally have an open door and you listen to people’s opinions.”
The Mississippi Department of Archives & History will do an initial screening of submissions to ensure specific requirements in the legislation are met.
The essence of Southern hospitality
Born and raised in South Mississippi, Graham would like to somehow represent the state’s hospitality in the flag.
“The people of Mississippi are just so generous, hospitable and vibrant,” she said, noting that residents happily give to their community organizations, churches, community colleges and more.
“I don’t know what that looks like on a flag, but I’d like something that depicts that,” she said.