In a rare Sunday session, Mississippi lawmakers voted to retire the last state flag in the United States with the Confederate battle emblem. The move comes as the state faces increasing pressure amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.
The current Mississippi flag features a red field topped with a blue X and 13 white stars in the upper left corner. The emblem is a replica of the Confederate flag that hate groups have waved for decades.
White supremacist legislators in Mississippi put the rebel emblem on the Mississippi flag in 1894—31 years after the end of the Civil War. Most people believe it was meant to squelch any power that African Americans had gained after the war.
Critics have long said that it’s wrong to have a flag with an emblem that many condemn as racist. Some religious groups believe removing the rebel emblem from the state flag is a moral issue. College sports leagues weighed in too. They say Mississippi could lose out on hosting postseason events if it continued flying the Confederate-themed flag.
Those who want to keep the current flag say they see it as a symbol of Southern heritage.
Until recently, efforts to redesign the flag sputtered in the legislature. Senator David Jordan told 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. The appeal in James 4:17 goes one step further about doing right: “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
The Senate voted 37-14 to retire the flag, just hours after the House voted 91-23. Cheers rang out in the state Capitol after the Senate vote. Some spectators wept. Some legislators embraced colleagues on the opposing side of an issue that has long divided the tradition-bound state.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves will likely sign the bill into law in the next few days.
Representative Robert Johnson choked back tears. 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,” Johnson says.
A commission will design a new flag. It cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will approve or disapprove the new design in the November 3 election.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, has pushed for five years to change the flag. He says the Confederate symbol is offensive.
“How sweet it is to celebrate this on the Lord’s Day,” Gunn said.
State Senator Derrick Simmons, who is African American, says the state deserves a flag to make all people proud.
“Today is a history-making day in the state of Mississippi,” Simmons told colleagues. “Let’s vote today for the Mississippi of tomorrow.”
(Paloma Wu holds a Black Lives Matter banner and calls for a new Mississippi state flag while current flag supporters wave the rebel flag. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)