JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi will abolish the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem more than a century after white supremacist lawmakers adopted the draft a generation after the South lost the civil war.
A broad coalition of lawmakers – black and white, democrat and republican – voted for change on Sunday, as the state was under increasing pressure amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.
Mississippi has a black population of 38%, and critics have said for generations that it is wrong to have a flag with a prominent emblem that many condemn as racist.
Democratic Senator David Jordan told colleagues just before the vote that Mississippi needs a flag that unites rather than divides.
“Let’s do this because it’s the right decision,” said Jordan.
The Senate voted 37-14 to retire the flag hours after the House voted 91-23.
After the Senate vote, the state capitol cheered. Some spectators cried. Lawmakers embraced, many hugging colleagues who were on the other side of an issue that has long divided the tradition-bound state.
Republican Governor Tate Reeves is expected to sign the law in the coming days.
Natchez Democratic Representative Robert Johnson choked tears when he told reporters that he has seen white colleagues develop more empathy about how the Southern symbol makes him and other African Americans painful.
“They started to understand the same thing and feel what I’ve been feeling for 61 years of my life,” said Johnson.
A committee will design a new 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.
Republican house speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, has been pushing for five years to change the flag because the Southern symbol is offensive.
“How wonderful it is to celebrate this on the day of the Lord,” said Gunn.
Lawmakers placed the Southern emblem in the top left corner of the Mississippi flag in 1894, as whites suppressed the political power African Americans acquired after the civil war.
In an election in 2001, voters chose to keep the flag. An increasing number of Mississippi cities and all public universities have brought down the state flag in recent years. But so far, attempts to redesign the flag have sputtered into the Republican-dominated legislature.
That dynamic changed when an extraordinary and diverse coalition of political, business, religious groups and sports leaders pushed for change.
At a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion in early June, thousands cheered when an organizer said the state should separate from all Southern symbols.
Religious groups said erasing the rebel emblem from the state flag is a moral imperative. Notable among them was the state’s largest church group, the 500,000-member Mississippi Baptist Convention, which called for change last week after not pushing for it before the 2001 elections.
Business groups said the banner hinders economic development in one of the poorest states in the country.
In a sports-mad culture, the biggest blow could have occurred when college sports leagues said Mississippi could lose post-season events if it continued to fly the Southern-themed flag. Nearly four dozen of the University of Mississippi’s athletic directors and coaches came to the Capitol to lobby for change.
Many people who wanted to keep the emblem on the Mississippi flag said they saw it as a symbol of heritage.
The battle emblem is a red field with a blue X with 13 white stars on it. The Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have been waving the rebel flag for decades.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that when the state updated its laws in 1906, parts related to the flag were not included. That meant that the banner had no official status. Democratic governor in 2000, Ronnie Musgrove, appointed a committee to determine the future of the flag. It held statewide hearings that got ugly as people yelled at each other over the flag.
Legislators then chose not to place a flag design themselves and put the matter to the 2001 general vote.
Former Mississippi Governor William Winter, now 97, was a member of then President Bill Clinton of the National Race Advisory Board in the 1990s and chaired the Mississippi Flag Committee in 2000. Winter said the removal of the Confederate The banner’s symbol is “A long time ago.”
“The struggle for a better Mississippi doesn’t end with the removal of the flag, and we must work together to make other positive changes for the benefit of all our people,” said Winter, a Democrat who was governor from 1980 to 1984. used to be. .
Greenville Democratic State Senator Derrick Simmons, who is African-American, said the state deserves a flag to make all people proud.
“Today is a day of making history in the state of Mississippi,” Simmons told colleagues. “Let’s vote today for tomorrow’s Mississippi.”
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.
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