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Mississippi Lawmakers Vote to Retire State Flag Rooted in the Confederacy

By Rick Rojas <https://www.nytimes.com/by/rick-rojas>

   - June 28, 2020, 7:00 p.m. ET

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers voted on Sunday to bring down, once
and for all, the state flag dominated by the Confederate battle emblem that
has flown for 126 years, adding a punctuation point to years of efforts to
take down Confederate symbols across the South.

The flag, the only state banner left in the country with overt Confederate
imagery, served for many as an inescapable symbol of Mississippi’s racial
scars and of the consequences of that racial history in defining
perceptions of the state.

Still embraced by many white Mississippians as a proud display of Old South
heritage, the flag increasingly has come to evoke segregation, racial
violence and a war that had a central aim of preserving slavery.

In Mississippi, the state with the nation’s highest percentage of
African-Americans, that has long been the position of black residents. It’s
now the view of many white Mississippians as well. For others, the drag on
the state’s perception by outsiders and the continuing friction within were
battles too costly to keep waging.
Continue reading the main story

The vote in the Mississippi House was 91 in favor and 23 opposed. The vote
in the Senate was 37-14. The measure now goes to Gov. Tate Reeves, a
Republican, who has said he will sign it.

Mississippi began grappling with the flag once again
<https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/21/us/mississippi-flag-redesign.html> this
spring as a result of the death of George Floyd in the custody of the
Minneapolis police, which rapidly evolved into a sprawling expression of
fury and exasperation over the countless manifestations of the nation’s
tangled racial history.

“I can’t even explain how I feel,” Kabir Karriem, a Democratic state
representative, who is black, said after casting a vote that he believed
would stand as one of the most important in his legislative career. “I’m
sure our ancestors are proud.”

Amid a movement that has brought down monuments of Confederates, colonizers
and conquistadors and stripped the names of segregationists from buildings
and programs, pressure soon zeroed in on the flag.

Lawmakers were confronted by a cascade of calls from inside and outside
as opposition coalesced across racial, religious, partisan and cultural
divides. Football and basketball coaches paraded through the Capitol urging
a change. A varied assortment
that included country music stars, the state’s black and white Baptist
conventions, civil rights organizations and associations of bankers,
manufacturers and librarians also indicated their opposition.

“This entire state is screaming for a change,” Philip Gunn, the Republican
speaker of the House and a leading proponent for lawmakers to remove the
flag, said this week. “The image of our state is at stake. The nation is

The legislation sent to Mr. Reeves proposes abolishing the old flag and
creating a commission that would design a new one. The new banner would be
forbidden from having the Confederate battle emblem and must include the
phrase “In God we trust.” The commission would be charged with arriving at
a design by September for it to be put up for a vote on the November ballot.

The legislation would mandate the “prompt, dignified and respectful”
removal within 15 days of the bill going into effect.

Mr. Reeves, a Republican, said on Saturday morning that he would sign a
bill to change the flag. It represented the latest evolution in the
governor’s thinking, as he relented on his initial stance that any decision
to change the flag ought to made directly by voters.

“The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state
flag,” Mr. Reeves said in a statement. “The argument over the 1894 flag has
become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it.”

The legislation cleared a significant procedural hurdle
on Saturday as a supermajority in both the House of Representatives and
Senate voted to move ahead.

Many lawmakers said removing the flag had an air of inevitability, as
Mississippi increasingly looked like a conspicuous holdout as activists
pushed to minimize and contextualize the remnants of the Confederacy that
have long been on prominent display.

The argument for changing the flag was a moral one for some. Yet the calls
for a change resonated more widely because of economic concerns raised by
business leaders and moderate Republicans. They contended that Mississippi,
as one of the poorest states, could not afford to have barriers turning
away outside investment.

The financial threat had been underscored
by recent announcements by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and
the Southeastern Conference that Mississippi would be precluded from
hosting championship events until the flag was changed.

“I don’t know how long I want to sit around and watch Mississippi get
kicked around because of a piece of cloth we have hanging over our
capitol,” W. Briggs Hopson III, a Republican state senator, told his
colleagues before the vote.

The groundswell effort to change the flag belied the extent of the division
that still exists over the banner and how to interpret the legacy it
symbolizes. Various polls show that, even as the number of people
supporting a change has increased, nearly half of the state was resistant
to the idea.

“Whether we like it or not, the Confederate emblem on our state flag is
viewed by many as a symbol of hate — there’s no getting around that fact,”
Jason White, a Republican state representative, said on the floor of the
House on Saturday. He said he recognized the “many good people who also
believe this flag is a symbol of our Southern pride and heritage.”

Still, he added, removing the flag did not mean erasing that history or
neglecting the state’s core principles. “We embrace them more fully by
doing what is right,” he said.

Many remain attached to the flag because they see it as an enduring
recognition of the blood shed by their ancestors who fought for Mississippi
and their pride in the state’s history.

Resistance to the vote has surfaced already: The Mississippi Division of
the Sons of Confederate Veterans, in a post on its Facebook page, suggested
rallying voters to impede any efforts to replace the flag. “We need to come
up with ways to make this as hard on them as possible and make them regret
it,” the post said.

One person replied, “I have a flag and it’s not changing.”

During the discussion in the Legislature, much of the dissent about
changing the flag was focused less on an outright defense of it and more
about voicing support of a referendum.

“They’ve come to expect that where I live,” Representative Jeffrey S.
Guice, a Republican, said.

Chris Brown, a Republican state representative, said he had heard from many
constituents who supported removing the flag but who also wanted to use a
statewide vote to send a message about Mississippi.

“Let’s not steal their joy,” Mr. Brown said. “They want to show the world
that they’re moving on.”

It would be a sharp contrast from the last time the flag was opened to a
statewide ballot, in 2001, when voters overwhelmingly decided to keep the

The renewed debate has also led some to reflect on what has changed, and
what hasn’t, over the past two decades. One black lawmaker recalled forums
held around the state that became so antagonistic that he feared for his

The effort was revived five years ago
after a white supremacist killed nine African-American worshipers in a
Charleston, S.C., church, prompting the removal of monuments to the
Confederacy across the region as well as battle flags on statehouse grounds
in Alabama and South Carolina. (Several other Southern states have flags
that are regarded as obliquely referencing Confederate iconography,
including Alabama and Florida.)

Many cities moved on their own to take down the flag and all eight of the
state’s public universities lowered it on their campuses. In Laurel,
southeast of Jackson, the mayor held back tears on Tuesday as he issued an
executive order removing the flag from city grounds. “I have lived through
some things with this flag,” Mayor Johnny Magee, who is black, said in a
quavering voice as he announced the order.
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