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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Mississippi lawmakers vote to remove Confederate emblem from flag

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The Mississippi will renounce the Confederate emblem with its state flag, more than a century after white supremacist lawmakers incorporated it a generation after the loss of the civil war by the South.

The Mississippi House and Senate voted successively on Sunday afternoon to withdraw the flag, with broad bipartisan support. Republican Governor Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill, and the state flag will lose official status as soon as he signs the measure.

The state has faced increasing pressure to change flags over the past month amid international protests against racial injustice in the United States.

A commission would design a new flag which cannot include the Confederate symbol and which should have the words “In God We Trust”. Voters will be asked to approve the new design during the November 3 elections. If they reject it, the commission will define a different model using the same guidelines, and that will be sent to voters later.

Mississippi has a black population of 38% – and the last state flag that incorporates the emblem which is widely considered racist.

Mississippi state senators kiss after the Senate voted to change the state flag on Sunday. (Rogelio V. Solis / The Associated Press)

Republican President Philip Gunn, who is white, pushed for five years to change the flag, saying the Confederate symbol is offensive. The House passed Bill 91-23 Sunday afternoon, and the Senate passed 37-14 later.

“How sweet it is to celebrate this day of the Lord,” said Gunn. “Many have asked him to bring us to this day. He replied.”

Debate before

A debate on the change of flag has already taken place, and in recent years an increasing number of cities and all public universities in the state have dismantled it. But the issue has never garnered enough support in the conservative Republican-dominated legislature or among recent governors.

This dynamic changed in a few weeks as an extraordinary and diverse coalition of political, commercial, religious and sports leaders pushed to change the flag.

During a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Mississippi governor’s mansion in early June, thousands of people cheered as an organizer said the state should get rid of all Confederate symbols.

Religious groups – including the large and influential Mississippi Baptist Convention – have declared the erasure of the rebel emblem of the state flag a moral imperative.

Business groups have said the banner is hampering economic development in one of the poorest states in the country.

In a crazy sports culture, the biggest blow could have happened when the university sports leagues declared that Mississippi could lose post-season events if it continued to fly the Confederate-themed flag. Nearly four dozen Mississippi university sport directors and coaches have come to the Capitol to lobby for change.

On Saturday, someone walks around the Capitol with the current Mississippi flag and the American flag. (Rogelio V. Solis / The Associated Press)

“We need something that fulfills the purpose of being a state flag and of which everyone in the state has reason to be proud,” said University football coach Mike Leach of Mississippi State.

Many people who wanted to keep the emblem on the Mississippi flag said they saw it as a symbol of heritage.

Lawmakers placed the Confederate emblem in the upper left corner of the Mississippi flag in 1894, while whites stifled the political power that blacks acquired after the civil war.

WATCH | Should Confederate Monuments Be Displayed at the US Capitol?

Inside Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill, Lyndsay Duncombe revisits the question of whether Confederate monuments should still be displayed to the public 5:55

The battle emblem is a red field surmounted by a blue X with 13 white stars. The Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have been waving the rebel flag for decades. Georgia placed the emblem of the battle prominently displayed on its state flag in 1956, in a brutal reaction to the civil rights movement. This state removed the symbol from its banner in 2001.

The Mississippi Supreme Court found in 2000 that when the state updated its laws in 1906, parts relating to the flag were not included. This meant that the banner had no official status. The Democratic Governor in 2000, Ronnie Musgrove, appointed a commission to decide the future of the flag. He held statewide hearings that turned out to be ugly as people yelled at each other over the flag.

After that, legislators chose not to define a flag themselves. They put the question on a 2001 ballot, and people voted to keep the flag. Another proposal would have replaced the Confederate corner with a blue field surmounted by a cluster of white stars representing Mississippi as the 20th state.

Democratic senator Derrick Simmons of Greenville, who is black, said that the state deserves a flag that would make everyone proud. “Today is a historic day in the state of Mississippi,” Simmons told his colleagues before the Senate voted for adoption. “Let’s vote today for the Mississippi of tomorrow.”

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