ELLISVILLE – While working on research on the Mississippi State Flag this fall with a retired geography professor from the University of Kentucky, Jones College geography and history instructor, Caleb Smith stumbled upon a prize-winning photo opportunity. Driving to work, he passed by the Jones County Courthouse in Ellisville and was inspired by the bare flagpole which had displayed the Mississippi State Flag since the courthouse was built in 1908.
“When I drove past the courthouse in October, I realized that the way the sunlight hit the American flag made for a really good photo,” said Smith. “However, what was more intriguing I thought, was the empty flagpole. My photo and essay depict the Ellisville Courthouse when the state did not have a state flag- a flagpole with no flag.”
Realizing the historical importance of such a rare occasion, Smith decided to submit his photo and essay in the Southeastern Division of the American Association of Geographer’s contest prior to the November conference. Members of the association voted on their favorite nominated photos and essays on the conference website before the virtual conference. Smith would have to wait until the closing session to learn his entry won the 2020 Southeastern Geographer’s Photo Essay Contest.
“This was the first time I ever submitted a photo for a contest,” said Smith. “An empty state flagpole is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The same old state flag has flown on a pole outside that courthouse and in the offices of that building since it was built. From July until November, there was no official flag for the state, so there was no flag on that pole, which is significant because it is rare, very rare.”
The photo and a longer version of the essay will appear in one of the four, 2021 issues of the Southeastern Geographer, the academic journal that is the foremost authority on geography in the South. The process of creating a commission to propose a new state flag and the eventual public vote to support the new flag will be included in Smith’s updated essay.
“I know we walk past or drive past places like this every day, but we don’t think about the messages that these public places present. As you walk into the courthouse, you walk between these two flagpoles that feature the flags of the U.S. and the State of Mississippi. We go inside and pay taxes, pay fines, register to vote, or attend court cases in a building that has these two poles outside that fly the reminders of where we are, what laws we follow, and where our tax dollars go (The U.S. and the state). I think that’s part of the reason why the entry struck a chord with so many people,” explained Smith.