Over the past week, many national and state groups have ramped up pressure on lawmakers to change the state flag, the last in the nation to feature the Confederate battle emblem.
Despite decades of bitter debate over the issue, Mississippi lawmakers are feeling unprecedented pressure to change the flag.
As of Monday afternoon, legislative leaders still do not have the votes needed to pass a change through both chambers. Doing so, either by outright changing the flag or putting it on a state ballot, would require a two-thirds vote of both the 122-member House and the 52-member Senate to suspend its rules. Lawmakers are quickly running out of time to act, as the current legislative session ends on Friday.
Democrats have universally backed changing the flag to the Hospitality Flag – previously called the Stennis flag – but Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers. Nearly 40 Black lawmakers stood in front of state flags on the front steps of the state Capitol and cried out “get rid of it.”
“We need to adopt a flag that is unifying and inclusive. The emotional distress that the current flag perpetuates on people of color extends throughout the United States, casting us and having people claim we are backwater and retrograde,” said Sen. Angela Turner-Ford (D- West Point), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Late last week, the NCAA and Southeastern Conference both threatened to remove postseason collegiate sporting events from being hosted in Mississippi until the flag changed. The NCAA was pushed to do so by dozens of state athletes. Mississippi State’s star running back Kylin Hill went as far on Monday to say that he would not play another game of football until the flag changed.
Alongside major sports institutions, religious groups in Mississippi are also chiming in on the flag issue. The Mississippi Baptist Convention, the state’s largest religious group, said on Tuesday that lawmakers have a moral obligation to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.
“While some may see the current flag as a calibration of heritage, a significant portion of our state sees it as a relic of racism and a symbol of hatred,” the MBC said in a statement. “The racial overtones of this flag’s appearance make this discussion a moral issue.”
The group has over 500,000 members across over 21,00 churches in Mississippi, leans heavily consrvative and is majority-white.
Lacking the 40 votes from Republican members of the House to outright change the flag, some lawmakers floated around an alternative proposal: creating a second one. This “separate but equal” flag option was quickly decried by many and rejected by Governor Tate Reeves.
“While well-intentioned I’m sure, it does not meet the threshold. Any similar plan would actually accomplish the exact opposite of our stated goal—it would actually divide our state more. I don’t believe it would satisfy either side of this debate, and I don’t think it is a viable alternative,” Reeves said in a statement.
All state universities and community colleges have not flown the flag on their campuses in years and have released statements supporting a flag change. Other powerful state groups that have done so, including The Mississippi Economic Council, The Delta Council and the Mississippi Association of Educators.
Last week, NASCAR banned Confederate flags – and by extension any flags containing the emblem – from their events as well. On Tuesday, a Walmart spokesperson announced that the retail supergiant will no longer display the state flag in its stores.