Mississippi will retire the last state flag in the US to bear the Confederate battle emblem following a historic vote by a coalition of lawmakers, both black and white and across the political aisle, on Sunday.
Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, has said he would sign the bill into law as soon as it comes across his desk, likely within the next few days.
On Sunday, lawmakers voted 91-23 to change the controversial flag in a landslide victory in the Republican-controlled House. Hours later the Senate voted 37-14 to retire the flag.
Mississippi has a 38 percent black population, and critics have said for generations that it’s wrong to have a flag that prominently features an emblem many condemn as racist.
Cheers rang out in the state Capitol after the Senate vote. Some spectators wept. Legislators embraced each other, many hugging colleagues who were on the opposing side of an issue that has long divided the tradition-bound state.
Mississippi will retire the last state flag in the US to bear the Confederate battle emblem following a historic vote by a coalition of lawmakers, both black and white and across the political aisle on Sunday. Gov. Tate Reeves (above), a Republican, has said he would sign the bill into law as soon as it comes across his desk, likely within the next few days
On Sunday, lawmakers voted 91-23 to change the controversial flag in a landslide victory in the Republican-controlled House. Hours later the Senate voted 37-14 to retire the flag. Observers in the gallery applaud following the Senate vote on Sunday in Jackson, Mississippi
Senators pictured standing and applauding after the body passed the historic legislation to change the state flag on Sunday
The decision to change the controversial flag comes 126 years after white supremacist legislators adopted the design a generation after the South lost the Civil War.
Democratic Sen. David Jordan told his colleagues just before the vote that Mississippi needs a flag that unifies rather than divides.
‘Let’s do this because it’s the right thing to do,’ Jordan said.
Democratic Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez choked back tears as he told reporters that he has seen white colleagues develop more empathy about how the Confederate symbol is painful to him and other African Americans.
‘They began to understand and feel the same thing that I’ve been feeling for 61 years of my life,’ Johnson said.
The Mississippi House and Senate voted on Sunday to pass a bill that would allow lawmakers to change the controversial state flag over its use of the Confederate battle emblem (pictured)
Joe Brister of Madison, Mississippi, pauses briefly in the parking lot on Saturday as state lawmakers discussed the fate of the state flag, in protest of changing the flag
‘I love this flag,’ David Flynt of Hattiesburg declared while standing outside the state Capitol with other current Mississippi flag supporters in Jackson, Mississippi on Sunday as the House and Senate voted to change it
Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, has pushed for five years to change the flag, saying the Confederate symbol is offensive.
‘How sweet it is to celebrate this on the Lord’s day,’ Gunn said
The flag’s supporters resisted efforts to change it for decades, but rapid developments in recent weeks have changed dynamics on this issue.
As protests against racial injustice recently spread across the US, including Mississippi, leaders from business, religion, education and sports have spoken forcefully against the state flag.
A commission would design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words ‘In God We Trust.’
The Hill reports that under this bill, the commission would be expected to recommend a flag design by mid-September.
Residents would have the opportunity to ‘okay’ or ‘veto’ the design during a November 3 election.
If the majority approve, it will become the new state flag. If a majority reject it, the commission will design a new flag using the same guidelines.
Reeves shared a post on Facebook that said uniting Mississippi together would ‘be harder than recovering from tornadoes, harder than historic floods’
Gov. Reeves committed to signing any flag bill after spending years pushing the decision out of lawmakers’ hands.
Reeves argued that the decision should be made by civilians, ‘not some backroom deal by a bunch of politicians in Jackson.’
On Monday, he shared a Facebook post where he admitted that he ‘repeatedly warned’ that politicians looking to change Mississippi’s flag would face swift backlash.
‘Over the last several years, I have repeatedly warned my fellow Mississippians that any attempt to change the current Mississippi flag by a few politicians in the Capitol will be met with much contempt,’ he wrote.
‘If the leadership in 2001 had not put it on the ballot, then the conversation may be different. But they did.’
But he relented on Saturday morning and said if the legislature presented a bill this weekend, ‘I will sign it.’
‘The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag. The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it.’ he wrote Saturday morning.
‘It will be harder than recovering from tornadoes, harder than historic floods, harder than agency corruption, or prison riots or the coming hurricane season—even harder than battling the coronavirus.
‘For economic prosperity and for a better future for my kids and yours, we must find a way to come together.’
Pictured: Social protocol is maintained as observers watch the House consider a number of bills Saturday morning before the successful vote on Sunday
Republican Sen. Briggs Hopson, of Vicksburg, is congratulated for successfully navigating a resolution to suspend the rules and vote to change the state flag on Saturday
The state House and Senate met Saturday and took a big step: By two-thirds margins, they suspended legislative deadlines so a flag bill could be filed.
Spectators cheered as each chamber voted, and legislators seeking the change embraced each other.
‘There are economic issues. There are issues involving football or whatever,’ Lt. Gov. Hosemann said Saturday.
‘But this vote came from the heart. That makes it so much more important.’
Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem – a red field topped by a blue cross with 13 white stars. The flag has been divisive for generations. All of the state’s public universities have stopped flying it, as have a growing number of cities and counties.
White supremacists in the Mississippi Legislature set the state flag design in 1894 during backlash to the political power that African Americans gained after the Civil War.
In 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the flag lacked official status. State laws were updated in 1906, and portions dealing with the flag were not carried forward.
Legislators set a flag election in 2001, and voters kept the rebel-themed design.
Sen. Sarita Simmons (left) hugs, Republican Sen. Brice Wiggins, of Pascagoula (center) and Jeremy England, of Vancleave, following the body passing a resolution that would allow lawmakers to change the state flag
Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford (left) and Sen. Sarita Simmons (right) embrace after Resolution 79 passed in the Senate to allow for a vote to change the Mississippi state flag Saturday
Don Hartness of Ellisville, walks around the Capitol carrying the current Mississippi state flag and the American flag, Saturday
Former state Rep. Steve Holland was at the Capitol on Sunday urging legislators to change the flag.
As a Democratic House member in 2000, Holland served on a commission that held public hearings about the flag.
He said Sunday that he and other commissioners received death threats back then.
Holland, who is white, said he voted in the 2001 election to keep the flag but he now sees the rebel symbol as harmful.
‘People have changed,’ Holland said. ‘The country´s changed. The world has changed.’
Blake Hinson (pictured): ‘I´m proud not to represent that flag anymore and to not be associated with anything representing the Confederacy’
Former Ole Miss basketball player Blake Hinson told his hometown Daytona Beach News-Journal that the Mississippi flag played a part in his decision to transfer to Iowa State.
‘It was time to go and leave Ole Miss,’ Hinson said. ‘I´m proud not to represent that flag anymore and to not be associated with anything representing the Confederacy.’
People wanting to keep the Confederate-themed flag could gather more than 100,000 signatures to put that design up for statewide election. It’s too late to get it on the ballot this November, though, because of timelines set in state law.
Many people who wanted to keep the emblem on the Mississippi flag said they see it as a symbol of heritage.
The battle emblem is a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. The Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have waved the rebel flag for decades.
Meanwhile, a different design has been gaining traction the past few years, with people flying it at their homes and businesses.
The ‘Stennis flag’ has red bars on either end and a white center topped with blue stars – 19 small ones encircling a large 20th one.
The flag was designed by Jackson artist Laurin Stennis, granddaughter of US Senator John C. Stennis, who served 41 years before retiring in 1989.
The elder Stennis was a segregationist much of his career. His granddaughter rejects that mindset, saying she wants her design to unify the state.
Critics say Mississippi should not adopt a flag with any connection to the former senator.
Laurin Stennis, an artist whose grandfather was a US senator who supported segregation, speaks outside her home in Jackson in April 2019. She explains how she thinks a flag she designed, which flies next to her, would be an appropriate symbol to replace the state flag that Mississippi has used since 1894
All eight of Mississippi´s public universities stopped flying the state flag years ago because of the Confederate symbol.
Many removed it after a white supremacist shot and killed worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
Black and white religious leaders in Mississippi issued a statement Thursday calling the flag ‘a major source of disagreement and discontent.’
Two dozen took part in a news conference, urging legislators to remove the Confederate symbol.
They said a statewide vote would be divisive.
Ronnie Crudup Sr., administrative bishop for the Fellowship of International Churches, said that when his father and other black soldiers were together in their dress uniforms after returning to Mississippi from the Korean War, a white man used a racial slur against them and told them nothing had changed.
‘By not changing the flag,’ Crudup said, ‘we’re saying to the world: “Nothing has changed”.’