The Mississippi state flag is no more. In a private ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion on Tuesday, Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill into law that officially retires the flag. Doing so was the final step in committing the flag, which was adopted in 1894 and featured the Confederate battle emblem, to the annals of history.
“I know there are people of goodwill who are not happy to see this flag change,” Reeves said in a speech before signing the bill. “They fear a chain reaction of events erasing our history — a history that is no doubt complicated and imperfect. I understand those concerns and am determined to protect Mississippi from that dangerous outcome.”
Many who supported the flags removal also support the relocation or removal of Confederate monuments. Reeves took time in his speech to separate that movement from lawmakers' decision on the flag.
“There is a difference between monuments and flags. A monument acknowledges and honors our past,” Reeves said. “A flag is a symbol of our present, of our people and of our future. For those reasons, we need a new symbol.”
House Speaker Phillip Gunn expressed the same sentiment to reporters after the bill passed on Saturday.
“We did not remove the Confederate battle emblem because we hate the American proposition, we did it because we love what America stands for," Gunn said. “We are not betraying our heritage,we are fulfilling it.”
The flag now has to be removed from government buildings across the state within 15 days.
A nine-person commission will now be appointed to develop a single new design by September. Mississippi voters will approve or reject that design in a special election on Nov. 3. Gov. Reeves, Lt Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Phillip Gunn will each appoint three members to the commission by July 15. The governor’s three appointees must be representatives from the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Arts Commission and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
The law states that the new flag will not contain the Confederate Battle Flag, but must include the words “In God We Trust.” Gov. Reeves led the effort last year that saw the phrase added to the state seal. If voters reject the flag proposed by the commission at the ballot box, the commission would then present a new option during the 2021 legislative session.
Lawmakers voted on Sunday to remove the Mississippi state flag by a veto-proof majority in both chambers.
The House approved the bill by a vote of 92-23 on Sunday, with eight House members deciding to vote to approve the final bill after voting no on a Saturday procedural vote. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 37-14, with one Senator switching sides between Saturday and Sunday.
Only three of the ten DeSoto County legislators voted to change the flag. In the Senate, Kevin Blackwell (R-19) and David Parker (R-2) voted yes. In the House, Democrat Hester Jackson McCray (D-40), who co-sponsored the bill, was the only yes vote. Four legislators in the House were absent for the final vote on Sunday, two being DeSoto legislators: Dan Eubanks (R-25) and Steve Hopkins (R-7).
The historic vote comes after pressure had been applied to lawmakers by many across the entire state. Everyone from religious leaders, business owners, government officials, and college athletes called for the flag’s removal. The NCAA and SEC said championship events would not be held in the state until the flag changed.
The flag has long been a hot spot of political contention in Mississippi, one seen by many as a symbol of hate that glorified The Lost Cause of the Confederacy. In 2001, Mississippi voters decided nearly 2-to-1 to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag, and many later bills filed in the legislature to change the flag failed. Such bills were filed this year and seen by most as dead on arrival.
The mood has changed over two decades, especially after a video of a white Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer kneeling for nearly nine minutes on the neck of George Floyd sparked a national movement on confronting racial inequality. Mississippi has the highest number of Black residents per capita in the nation, and those who had been pushing for the flag to change for years or even decades saw a real opportunity for change.
“All eyes are on Mississippi, and today, we have made a historic decision,” said Sen. Angela Turner Ford, chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus. “… Today we mark a transition for Mississippi, a day where we can be proud to move forward to adopt a symbol that is inclusive, a symbol that all of us can rally behind … We’ve made a decision to move forward, and I hope Mississippians are proud of that decision.”