From statues to street names, the best-known memories of America’s history of racism are often these remnants of the Confederation. The state flag of Mississippi, which had the Confederate flag in the upper left corner, is just one example.
It had long been a point of controversy for the state and in 2001 a referendum on the amendment failed. However, House Speaker Philip Gunn backed the removal after that initial rejection, and state lawmakers have pondered it for the past few years.
That June, nearly 20 years after that referendum, Mississippi lawmakers took steps to change the state’s flag for good.
In late June, Governor Tate Reeves signed a flag redesign bill that was put to vote in the November election. The design, dubbed the “In God We Trust” flag, featured the state’s flower, magnolia, surrounded by 20 stars to indicate that it was the 20th state and a five-point star, to honor the indigenous tribes of the state.
In contrast to the presidential election, which saw final results for days, Mississippi voted 71.4% yes to its new state flag.
The journey was largely due to a variety of marketing efforts led by the Jackson, Miss., GodwinGroup based agency. There was no election campaign in 2001, resulting in a lack of support.
“We learned from . People need to know how important this is and that it matters, ”said Philip Shirley, Chairman and CEO of Godwin. “The world’s eyes are on Mississippi and our image will suffer if we don’t change the flag.”
Instead of just one campaign, the agency worked with three clients.
A campaign with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History explained the design process and the meaning of the potential flag. Another nonprofit alliance for Mississippi’s future focused on educating voters about the proposal. And the last one was an advocacy campaign with the In God We Trust Committee to encourage voters to vote yes on the new design.
The latter two groups were founded by the Mississippi Economic Council, one of Godwin’s longstanding clients.
For legal reasons, the teams in the three campaigns could not communicate directly with each other. But since Godwin was working on all three, there was synchronicity, Shirley said. The campaigns ran over a four-week period and included television, print, radio, outdoor, digital, text and telephone.
“We wanted to build momentum,” said Shirley, thanks to consistent messaging and awareness of the new design. The most basic challenge, Shirley said, was getting people to like the design. Once that was achieved, it was a matter of getting people used to it.
“We have ordered hundreds of flags and found ways to make them fly across the state to display in everyday life,” he said. “We imagined what the future would be like if this became our flag.”
At the center of the campaigns was the sentence on the flag: “In God we trust.” The inclusion was one of two mandates that the legislature prescribed for the new design. The other, of course, was the removal of the Confederate flag.
“Mississippi’s rather devout people. They are people who consider themselves believers, ”said Shirley. “‘In God We Trust’ meant something to them, so we knew this would be part of the news.”
Godwin had conversations with people who opposed the idea of changing the flag. The agency said the Confederate flag when drafted had contributed to some problems facing the state, such as the withdrawal of younger citizens, a decline in tourism, and co-optation by hate groups. From there, according to Shirley, these people change[d] their hearts and minds. “