Mississippi legislature votes to retire state flag with the Confederate symbol

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The 1894 banner, the last of its kind, has become yet another emblem of the Confederacy to be removed by lawmakers in the South. 

More than a century after white supremacist legislators adopted the symbol onto the state’s flag 126 years ago, Mississippi lawmakers approved the  removal of the Confederate battle emblem. The largely bi-partisan decision ended in a 91-23 vote in the House and a 37-14 vote in the Senate. Governor Tate Reeves (R) said he will sign the bill within the next few days. 

House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) proposed the legislation. He first publicly called for the removal of the flag’s emblem after the Charleston church massacre in 2015 that subsequently left nine Black people dead. 

“We are better today than we were yesterday,” Sen. Gunn said, according to Mississippi Today. “Today, the future has taken root in the present. Today, we and the rest of the nation can look at our state with new eyes, with pride and hope.”

A nine person commission will be appointed by Gov. Reeves, Sen. Gunn, and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann to create the design of the new flag. Under the terms of the bill, appointees must also be members of  the state’s Economic Council, Arts Commission, and Department of Archives and History. The design also cannot include the Confederate symbol, but must include the words, “In God We Trust.”

As well, the reconstructed flag must be ready by mid-September so that voters will be able to approve or veto the design during the November 3rd elections. If they reject the design, the commission will create a different model, which will be sent to voters in 2021. 

Dismantling racist iconography

The last time the flag was contested was in 1993. Because of its Confederate imagery, the NAACP’s local chapter filed a lawsuit to prohibit the display of the flag. The case  reached Mississippi’s Supreme Court which ruled in 2000 that there was no official state flag because it was not included in the 1906 state code.

After the decision, the state’s governor at the time, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D), formed a commission to recommend what to do next. The recommendation of the commission was to let the people decide whether or not to formally adopt the 1894 flag as the official state flag. After a vote, 64 percent chose to keep the 19th century flag. 

Over the last month, amidst protests against racial injustices in the US, pressure to remove the Confederate emblem from Mississippi’s flag mounted. In a protest outside the Mississippi governor’s mansion, demonstrators demanded that the state remove all Confederate symbols and memorabilia. 

Mississippi has a 38 percent Black population. For many, the current banner evokes memories of segregation, racial violence, and a violent war whose explicit goal was to preserve the slave system.

“For 100 plus years, we have been living under this flag,” Senator David Jordan (D) said. “We watered this land with our tears and made it rich with our bones, so it’s only fair we have a symbol that represents us and does not remind us of what has happened to us.” 

Religious groups like the Mississippi Baptists also said that lawmakers had an obligation to take down the flag. “While some may see the current flag as a celebration of heritage, a significant portion of our state sees it as a relic of racism and a symbol of hatred,” the Mississippi Baptist Convention argued  in a statement. “The racial overtones of this flag’s appearance make this discussion a moral issue.” 

Once the governor signs the bill, the Department of Archives and History will have 15 days to officially retire the flag.

Sara Elroubi

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