Lawmakers in the Mississippi House and Senate voted Sunday to remove the Confederate battle emblem from their state flag, which is the last in the nation to display the symbol. There was raucous applause in both chambers Sunday after the votes that came a day after Gov. Tate Reeves said for the first time that he would sign the bill if it obtained approval from the state’s legislators.
The vote follows years of pressure for the state to change the flag that a number of cities and all of the state’s public universities have taken down on their own. But despite all the years of debate, in the end the vote wasn’t even close in the state that has a 38 percent Black population. The state’s House approved the bill 91–23 Sunday afternoon, and then the Senate approved the measure 37–14. “Today we and the rest of the nation can look on our state with new eyes, with pride and hope,” House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican who has been pushing for the state to change the flag for five years, said.
Although there has been a yearslong campaign to get the state to change the flag that many saw as a symbol of racism, segregation, and slavery, the pressure on the state increased over the past month amid the protests against police brutality and systemic racism that have engulfed the country. For many residents of the state that has the country’s highest percentage of Black Americans, the flag was a painful reminder of the state’s history. “I would guess a lot of you don’t even see that flag in the corner right there,” said state Rep. Ed Blackmon on Saturday. “There are some of us who notice it every time we walk in here, and it’s not a good feeling.”
Before the votes, lawmakers gave emotional speeches to make their case as to why the state’s flag should change, while those who defended it insisted it should be up to voters to make such a monumental decision through a referendum. “Whether we like it or not, the Confederate emblem on our state flag is viewed by many as a symbol of hate—there’s no getting around that fact,” Jason White, a Republican state representative, said on the floor of the House on Saturday.
Now a commission will be tasked with designing a new flag for the state that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must contain the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will have to give final approval to the new design in the November election.