JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The Mississippi flag disappears from public view in many places, even before the governor signs a bill that will abolish the last US state banner with the Confederate battle emblem.
A broad coalition of legislators passed the bill on Sunday after a weekend of emotional debate. On Monday, an American flag fluttered outside the building of the State Supreme Court and a pole in front of the state flag was empty. Several local governments also rolled up the 126-year-old state flag.
“In the midst of a pandemic, we – the legislators of the state of Mississippi – decided it was time to remove the flag,” Vicksburg Democratic state representative Oscar Denton said Monday as he stood on the steps of the Capitol with other legislators. Black Caucus members.
Widespread protests in the past month have drawn attention to racial injustice in the U.S., and Mississippi came under increasing pressure to surrender the flag with the Southern emblem – a red field topped with a blue X with 13 white stars .
A few supporters of the flag marched with it outside the Mississippi Capitol on Saturday and Sunday. In the building, dozens of spectators cheered and some cried with happiness after the legislators voted to change the flag. Senators on either side of the issue embraced.
Republican Governor Tate Reeves is expected to sign the flag this week and the banner will be removed from state law. It still flew on two poles on top of the Capitol on Monday, indicating that the House and Senate were working.
White supremacist lawmakers placed the Southern emblem in the top left corner of the Mississippi flag in 1894, as whites suppressed the political power that African Americans had acquired after the civil war. The Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have used the rebel emblem, and critics have said for generations that it is wrong for a state with a 38% black population to have the image on its flag.
In a 2001 statewide election, Mississippi voters chose to keep the flag, while supporters said they consider it a symbol of heritage. But a growing number of cities and all state public universities have left it in recent years due to its confederate image.
Several black legislators, and a few white ones, have been pushing for decades to change the flag. After a white gunman killed black worshipers in a church in South Carolina in 2015, Mississippi’s Republican Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, said that his own religious belief forced him to tell Mississippi to remove the Southern symbol from its flag.
But until recently, the flag issue was widely considered too fleeting for legislators to touch.
In recent weeks, as Southern landmarks and other symbols were removed in parts of the U.S. amid widespread protests over racial injustice, a flood of business, religion, education, and sports leaders called on Mississippi to change the flag. That was when the legislators went to vote.
“This battle is one that has been fought uphill,” Black Caucus president Democratic Senator Angela Turner Ford said Monday.
A committee will design a new Mississippi flag that should not contain the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the November 3 elections. If they reject it, the committee will draw up another draft according to the same guidelines and that will be sent to the voters later.
President Donald Trump has criticized the removal of monuments, including those of the Confederacy. On Monday in Washington, White House press chief Kayleigh McEnany was asked if Mississippi was taking steps to remove the Southern emblem from the state flag.
“That is a decision Mississippi must make, and it is commendable that they have taken this action legally and taken the right steps rather than attempting to demolish statues and monuments,” said McEnany.
Washington Associate Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report. Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.
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