UPDATE (6/30): On Tuesday, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill passed last weekend that would replace the official stage flag containing a Confederate battle emblem.
As the South continues to reckon with its glorification of Confederate generals and iconography, the Mississippi House of Representatives and Senate voted on Sunday to replace the state flag, which has featured a Confederate battle emblem in its upper left-hand corner since 1894.
The bill overcame a legislative hurdle on Saturday, clearing the way for a vote Sunday, where it passed with bipartisan support in the House 91-23, then in the Senate 37-14, where it received a standing ovation. Shortly following the votes, a man lowered a state flag that was flying at the state capitol.
— WLBT 3 On Your Side (@WLBT) June 28, 2020
If adopted into law, the bill would require the “prompt, dignified and respectful” removal of the retired flag within 15 days of when the legislation took effect. The bill also establishes a commission to design the new flag, which must include the phrase “In God we trust.”
After the bill passed, Kabir Karriem, a Democratic state representative, who is black, said it may be the most significant vote of his career. “I can’t even explain how I feel. I’m sure our ancestors are proud,” he said, according to the New York Times.
“How sweet it is to celebrate this on the Lord’s day,” Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, said after the bill passed, according to the AP. “Many prayed to Him to bring us to this day. He has answered.”
On Saturday, Governor Tate Reeves confirmed that he will sign a bill to change the flag. “The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag,” he wrote. “The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it. If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it.”
Thie weekend’s votes are the result of a widespread campaign to pressure the legislature to change the flag, following a national call for racial justice after weeks of Black Lives Matter national protests. On Thursday morning, a group including college football coaches and Christian ministers occupied the Mississippi Capitol to lobby for the flag to be changed. “We removed the flag from our campus five years ago, so we’ve made it clear that it doesn’t represent who we are at Ole Miss,” Lane Kiffin, head coach of Ole Miss, told ESPN. “Today is another big step in doing our part to move the state forward and ensure a more welcoming environment for everyone. This is extremely important to me and to our players.”
A week earlier, the Southeastern Athletic Conference, which includes Ole Miss and Mississippi State, warned that it will not hold championship events in the state until the flag is changed. A day later, the NCAA issued a similar warning. “There is no place in college athletics or the world for symbols or acts of discrimination and oppression,” NCAA Board of Governors Chairman Michael Drake said in a statement.
As pressure mounted this week, Republican Reeves acknowledged Thursday in a Facebook post that “there is honest pain and discomfort felt when some Mississippians look at the symbol on our flag,” and that he is “torn” on the best path forward for the state. Reeves noted that while he preferred the people vote on whether to change the flag, as they did in 2001 when 64 percent voted to keep the flag, he would not contest a vote by the state’s legislature. “Make no mistake, a vote to change the rules is a vote to change the flag,” he concluded. “If they get those votes, a veto would be pointless. That debate would be over, and the flag would change.”
Mississippi is the last state in the nation whose flag bears the Confederate war emblem. In 2013, 150 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the state became the last to ratify the 13th Amendment and officially abolish slavery.
This post has been updated.