Mississippi lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to remove a Confederate emblem from their state flag on Sunday, marking one of the most dramatic repudiations yet of white-supremacist imagery during a wave of protests against racism and police brutality in America.
The bill passed 128 to 37 and is now awaiting signature by Gov. Tate Reeves. It requires the current state flag to be removed within 15 days of passage. A commission selected by the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the House will design a flag including the phrase “In God We Trust” to be completed by September 14. Mississippi voters will decide on the new flag during the November general election. If the new flag is not ratified by voters in November, a new design will be created and voted on the following year.
"Today’s vote is not a vote to erase Mississippi’s history or its heritage," Sen. John Horhn said. "But it’s an affirmation of Mississippi’s future, and that we intend to move forward together."
On Saturday, lawmakers in both houses cleared an initial measure paving the way for a bill to change the flag, and Republican Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted that he would sign a bill to that effect.
The initial measure lifted restrictions in place that prohibited the state government from changing or removing the state flag, which is the last in the United States to include an explicit homage to pro-slavery rebels.
“The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it,” Reeves tweeted.
The governor went on to say that changing the flag was not enough to fight the systemic racism the Confederate symbol represents. “We should not be under any illusion that a vote in the Capitol is the end of what must be done,” he wrote. “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.”
State Representative Jeramey Anderson (D-Miss), the youngest-ever Black legislator elected in Mississippi at 28, applauded the decision to pave the way for change on Saturday. “This is a unique opportunity, one we should not squander,” he said.
Confederate leader Jefferson Davis’s great-great grandson Bertram Hayes-Davis backed the change, telling CNN that “the battle flag has been hijacked” and that it “does not represent the entire population of Mississippi.”
Rising college basketball player Blake Hinson said the Confederate symbol played a role in his decision to transfer from the University of Mississippi to Iowa State earlier this month. “It was time to go and leave Ole Miss,” he told the Daytona Beach News Journal. “I’m proud not to represent that flag anymore and to not be associated with anything representing the Confederacy.”
Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Miss) opposed the change and called for a state referendum on the issue, warning that changing the American flag was next.
“I don’t see how that makes me a racist.” he said. “I don’t see how that makes me a terrible human being.”