Mississippi House and Senate pass historic bill to remove Confederate symbol from state flag

Mississippi House and Senate pass historic bill to remove Confederate symbol from state flag
Source: CNN

On Sunday, Mississippi lawmakers passed a bill to remove the Confederate emblem from the state’s flag. Mississippi is currently the only state in the United States to have a confederate symbol on its flag.

The emblem is accepted by some as a display of Southern heritage but also viewed as a symbol of segregation and the Civil War fought by the 11 Confederate States of America in the South to preserve slavery.

The bill was passed in the Mississippi House by a vote of 91-23 and in the Senate by a vote of 37-14.

It mandates the “prompt, dignified and respectful” removal of the 1894 flag which has red, white and blue stripes and a confederate battle emblem in the corner within 15 days of the bill’s enactment.

It also establishes a nine-member commission to develop a new flag design without the Confederate symbol and instead featuring the phrase, “In God, We Trust” by September 14 of this year.

The design will become the new state flag, provided that a majority of voters approve it in a special election held on November 3. However, if the design is rejected, the commission will reconvene again to create a new design to present to the state legislature in 2021.

To pass the bill, both chambers of the state legislature had to pass the House Resolution 79 on Saturday to bypass the deadline for introducing and enacting new bills, which has ended for the year.

On Saturday, Republican Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves tweeted that he would follow legislative procedure and sign the bill into law once it arrives at his desk.

“The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag. 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.”

He further added, “We should not be under any illusion that a vote in the Capitol is the end of what must be done- the job before us is to bring the state together and I intend to work night and day to do it.”

Several lawmakers and activists have also expressed their support for the bill.

On Sunday evening, Derrick Johnson, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) told CNN that the bill has long been due.

“This is a long time coming. Finally, Mississippi decided to be one of the 50 states, and not the one state standing alone still bearing the emblem of a segregated society."

Republican House speaker Jason White said on the House floor, “Many opponents of changing the state flag say we should stand up to what is right, that we shouldn’t cave to outside pressure … even if it’s bad for business. I agree with those people … I’m here today because it is simply the right thing to do.”

Organizations that supported the flag change were also able to throw weight behind the bill, further pressuring the both legislative chambers.

Last Friday, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), an organization dedicated to safeguarding and providing opportunities to college athletes, announced that NCAA would prevent championship events from being played in Mississippi until it removed the Confederate state flag.

On June 19, the American college athletic Southeastern Conference (SEC), which sponsors team championships for men’s and women’s sports, announced on Twitter that it would also not hold its championship events in Mississippi for the same reason.

However, several senators have also expressed their opposition to the bill.

Republican Senator Chris McDaniel stated, “We firmly believe that this political correctness, this movement we are sensing out there right now to delegitimize our American institutions and our American history is a movement that’s incredibly dangerous and cannot be appeased.”

He further argued that people who viewed the American flag itself as a symbol of oppression may want to take it down too, adding that voters should determine the removal of the flag.

“I don’t see how that makes me a racist. I don’t see how that makes me a terrible human being.”

In April 2001, in a special state election ballot known as the Mississippi Flag Referendum, a majority of voters decided to keep the 1894 flag.

However, calls to change the flag design grew louder after the June 17 shooting in 2015 of nine African Americans by white supremacist Dylann Roof in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina.

After the incident, photographs of Roof holding a confederate flag emerged. This prompted the state’s eight universities and many cities to lower the flag.

After the killing of George Floyd, who was black, by former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, protests have erupted nationwide and demands to change the state’s flag have grown increasingly intense. Many protesters across the country have also torn down or defaced public statues, most of which are of confederate generals, slave owners and Civil War soldiers.

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