The Mississippi state legislature voted on Sunday to replace its state flag, the last in the nation to display the Confederate battle emblem. The removal of the flag marks the latest Confederate symbol to topple in the weeks following George Floyd’s death as activists have called for a reexamination of the racism that exists in all corners of society.
The bill passed by a vote of 91-23 in the House and 37-14 in the Senate.
The bill now goes to the desk of Governor Tate Reeves, who on Saturday morning said he would sign the legislation into law, reversing resistance to a legislature-led change to the flag. Mississippians will vote on a replacement flag in the November election. According to the legislation, the current flag design cannot be an option.
“I would guess a lot of you don’t even see that flag in the corner right there,” said Mississippi state Representative Ed Blackmon, who is black, during public comment on Saturday. “There are some of us who notice it every time we walk in here, and it’s not a good feeling.”
Up until earlier this month, the majority of Mississippians favored keeping the flag, which prominently features the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. In 2001, voters decided two to one in a ballot measure to keep the flag as is, many arguing it was a nod to their ancestors who fought for Mississippi in the Civil War.
But a recent wave of influential business, religious and sports leaders condemning the flag — including the Southeastern Conference and the National Collegiate Athletic Association — prompted a change of heart. By Thursday, polling showed 55% of Mississipians wanted a change, according to the state’s chamber of commerce.
Many symbols of the Confederacy have vanished in the wake of Floyd’s death. Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced his intention to remove a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue. Military leaders have said they were open to renaming forts named after Confederate generals, a proposal that’s been rejected by President Trump. NASCAR announced it would prohibit the display of the Confederate flag during races and other events, writing in a statement that the flag’s presence “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment.”
But nowhere is the Confederate flag more on display than in Mississippi, the last remaining state to include the design on its official state flag. As other Southern states have retired designs that included the symbol, Mississippi has been the lone holdout, even as institutions across the state have voluntarily pulled it down.
Following the attack on black parishioners by a white supremacist in a South Carolina church, all of Mississippi’s public universities and many cities have stopped flying the ensign. But the flag still flies in front of many public buildings, including the state capitol building and the Governor’s mansion.
Mississippians had previously been resistant to changing the flag, citing the state’s history. But activists argued the flag has been co-opted, and now is used as a symbol of white supremacy, the Jim Crow South and racism and violence that black Americans still face.
“My ancestors were beaten and traumatized, and it was under that flag,” said Jarrius Adams, 22, a political activist that advocated for the change. “There are a lot of moments when I’m not proud to be from Mississippi, but this is definitely a moment that I’m extremely proud to be from Mississippi.”