Join the jubilee for the Hospitality State’s yearlong bicentennial celebration!
Fifty stars, 13 stripes. Many Americans have lived all their lives knowing only one United States flag design. But for a brief period after Mississippi became the 20th state in the Union in 1817, a 20-star flag served as the nation’s proudest symbol.
To honor the bicentennial anniversary of Mississippi’s statehood, a rare authentic example of that historic banner is once again on display. The 6-by-10-foot wool and linen flag began a tour of the state in late 2016 and makes its way to ten Mississippi cities before reaching its permanent home in the new Museum of Mississippi History in time for the facility’s grand opening in December 2017.
The flag fanfare is a fitting focal point for what will be a long lineup of special events and programs planned for Mississippi’s milestone year.
“The bicentennial year is a great opportunity for Mississippians to look at how a very rural state has grown, not only in terms of size, but also in ideas and innovation,” says Mary Margaret Miller, Bureau Manager of Tourism Development for Visit Mississippi. “It’s a chance to step back and be proud of how we’ve grown and to look ahead at what we want to accomplish moving forward.”
The road to statehood began in 1798 with the formation of the Mississippi Territory, which included the areas that are now Mississippi and Alabama. It was July 1817 when representatives of the territory’s then 14 counties gathered for a constitutional convention near Natchez. After more than a month of deliberation, 45 delegates signed the document. President James Monroe signed a resolution admitting Mississippi as the 20th state on December 10, 1817. The eastern half of the territory would become the state of Alabama two years later.
The culmination of Mississippi’s bicentennial celebration will be the opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the adjoining Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in December 2017. These two entities will feature compelling exhibits and thousands of artifacts highlighting both the bright spots and the darker moments of Mississippi’s past.
“People around the state are excited to have these museums as a way to tell our stories to the world,” says Mississippi Department of Archives and History Public Information Officer Stephenie Morrisey. “We know visitors have a great interest in our state’s sometimes tumultuous history, and these facilities will give us a long-lasting legacy.”
But visitors won’t have to wait until December to be part of the statewide celebration. This yearlong celebration will honor the state’s culture— including music, food, literature and art—as well as achievements in areas from sports to science, industry to agriculture. “We’re looking forward to seeing individual communities find unique ways to celebrate their contributions to Mississippi’s story,” says Miller.
Local celebrations will extend from Gulf Coast communities to the northernmost border. In the coastal city of Gulfport, for example, the party will take place at Centennial Plaza, a spot named for a celebration which never happened.
Mississippians had planned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of statehood in 1917, but worry over World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic put an end to those plans. The site was converted to a military training facility, and the celebration would have to wait another 100 years.
In Jackson, the Mississippi Museum of Art will begin the bicentennial year with a gift to the state in the form of a series of showings called “Art Across Mississippi: Twelve Exhibitions, Twelve Communities.”
Museum officials will curate a dozen full-scale exhibitions made up of pieces from the facility’s 5,600-object permanent collection, then lend them to affiliate sites around the state. “These exhibitions will focus the attention of Mississippians on their own cultural legacy as they begin to contemplate the meaning of the state’s first two centuries,” says Museum Marketing Director Julian Rankin.
The museum will mark the December anniversary by launching an expansive exhibition within its own walls. Picturing Mississippi, 1817-2017: Land of Plenty, Pain and Promise will feature more than 100 works which “illuminate the perception and depiction of Mississippi—of the river, the land and its diverse people,” says Rankin. This show, running through July 2018, will feature pieces on loan from national and international institutions, including works by artists not often seen here as well as many by native Mississippians.
Those artworks will date back to the days when the 20-star flag was a symbol of a new state with new hope for all its citizens. Only a handful of 20-star flags are known to exist, and the handmade version now touring the state is believed to have been flown on a ship helmed by a Massachusetts- based military captain. Mississippi officials had the fragile flag conserved by textile experts, a process of humidifying, vacuuming, flattening and pressure mounting in a massive frame.
Accompanying the flag on its tour is a copy of Mississippi’s founding 1817 constitution. “The constitution has been viewable online, but it has not been on display until now,” said Stephenie Morrisey. “We’re excited to get it out there, and let the people of Mississippi see it.”
Free public programs are being held in each tour location. These events, like so many others planned around the state this year, will give residents and visitors a glimpse into Mississippi life 200 years ago along with a peek at the promising future.
“So much of our history really lives in small towns, and these celebrations will let visitors experience our really rich culture,” says Miller. “Visitors traveling in from out-of-state will be able to have true once-in-a-lifetime experiences in Mississippi this year.”
Check out a few of the other planned bicentennial events and programs:
• Mississippi Public Broadcasting will produce a series of documentary short films about Mississippi at
200, featuring interesting people and places.
• The Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, housed at Mississippi State University in Starkville, will move
to a newly constructed wing of the school’s Mitchell Memorial Library.
• The Secretary of State’s office will release a Mississippi Bicentennial coffee table book featuring
chapters written by and about celebrated Mississippians, along with archival photos and a comprehensive history.
• The Mississippi Heritage Trust, an organization dedicated to rescuing and renewing meaningful Mississippi places, will celebrate its own 25th birthday as the state turns 200. Its 25/200 Project will document preservation milestones in Mississippi with a book, short films and events throughout the state.
• The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience—a world-class facility recognizing stars in music, literature and visual and performing arts—will open in late 2017 in downtown Meridian.
• The Mississippi Arts Commission’s Mississippi Folk and Traditional Arts Program will highlight folklife through mini exhibitions around the state.
• Even the state’s 13 official Welcome Centers will join the party, with special commemorations and offerings for visitors.
Learn more about the state’s history and find a detailed calendar of bicentennial-related events around the state at ms200.org.
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