The Mississippi legislature voted Sunday to cancel the state flag, whose rebel battle star was the final remaining symbol of the Confederacy on a flag in the United States.
Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves had announced Saturday he would sign the bill, which means the Magnolia State will now form a committee to approve a new flag, the design of which must include the words in God we trust and will be put before the voters in November.
The historic moment came after a tumultuous weekend in Jackson that saw spectators in the capital erupt in applause while demonstrators thronged outdoors.
This is the result of decades of work and sacrifice by Mississippians committed to human rights, equality, reparation, and dismantling the institutions of white supremacy, said Lea Campbell, the founder of the Mississippi Rising Coalition.
Religious and activists groups stepped up the pressure in June, holding rallies on the capitol steps and furiously lobbying the Republican majority in the legislature.
Most GOP leaders in the statehouse and senate had previously indicated they would back a measure to change the flag, but the support of an overall majority finally came into focus in the last week.
The more than two-thirds majority required to suspend legislative deadlines and move the bill to debate passed the legislature Saturday to raucous applause, with Mississippi lawmakers declaring the eyes of the nation were upon them.
The state’s African-American senators delivered passionate messages urging their colleagues to reject the current flag and vote for a new one.
I stand in the name of history, state senator Derrick Simmons said. Mr. Simmons cited his family tree’s deep roots in Mississippi and said his sons, ages 1 and 6, should not be educated, live, and work beneath a Confederate symbol.
The project now goes to the new flag committee, whose 9 members must be named by July 15. The committee members will be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the statehouse.
That committee must present its choice for a new flag on Sept. 14, and that design will be put to a yes or no vote in November. Finally, the legislature must then vote to approve the new flag in January 2021.
In other words, the only certain thing now is that the Mississippi state flag shall not include the battle flag of the Confederacy and shall include the words ‘in God, we trust,’ as lawmakers solemnly read out Sunday.
The possibility remains that should the flag proposed in November not get a majority vote, or the legislature fail to approve it next January, then Mississippi will be in a kind of limbo vis-a-vis having an official flag.
Nevertheless, the current flag’s opponents rejoiced at winning the main point: ridding the state of a reminder it once fought on behalf of a government dedicated to slavery. While the Georgia state flag is designed on a principle similar to that of the Confederacy’s first national flag the battle star was removed in 2001.
Mississippi can finally have a flag for all Mississippians that does not include a remnant of the Old South, said Sharon Brown with Flag for All MS, a group that formed in 2015.
Ms. Brown and Ms. Campbell were among those on hand in the legislative galleries Sunday.
Republican state senator W. Briggs Hopson of Vicksburg used football imagery Sunday while urging his colleagues to back HB1796.
The legislature has punted on this for too long, he said. We’re at the 1-yard line now and we need to push this ball across the goal line. Let’s stand up and move this state in a different direction.
Mr. Hopson said Mississippi had a duty to the republic to make a change on the flag which has divided the state to varying degrees since it became the official banner when it was adopted in 1894.
There was some discussion in the senate about whether the words “in God we trust” would prove divisive, too. Mr. Hopson said at least 40% of Mississippians are offended by the current flag and that any flag was likely to have opponents, and he and other lawmakers insisted the world would condemn Mississippi if it failed to act.
Mississippi’s population includes the highest percentage of African-Americans – 37.3% – of any in the union, according to the 2010 census.
The house voted 91-23 to approve the flag change and sent it to the senate. After a lengthy recess and discussion, the bill went before the state senate where it passed on a 37-14 vote at 6 p.m. on the dot to sustained applause.
Considering this legislation is about 126 years overdue, yeah – the state of Mississippi is good at wasting time, Mississippi Rising’s Melissa Garriga joked during the senate’s long process.
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