Mississippi has officially removed the last state flag in the US with the Confederate Battle Emblem, a racist symbol that has served as a source of division for generations.
Republican Governor Tate Reeves signed a landmark bill Tuesday that removes the 126-year-old flag from the state.
“This is not a political moment for me, but a solemn occasion to bring our Mississippi family to unite, reconcile and move forward,” Reeves said in a statement. “We are resistant people defined by our hospitality. We are a people of great faith. Now, more than ever, we must lean on that faith, leave our divisions behind and unite for a greater good. “
Mississippi lawmakers have faced mounting pressure to change the flag, which features the emblem of the Confederate battle, a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars, amid a national reckoning with systematic racism.
On Sunday, a coalition of lawmakers passed a bill that removed the state flag and called for a commission to design a new one, which voters must pass in the Nov. 3 election.
The move culminated days of emotional debate and decades of effort by black lawmakers and others to remove the rebel emblem, arguing that it cannot represent a state where 38% of the population is black. White supremacy lawmakers placed the symbol on the Mississippi flag in 1894, thirty years after the civil war.
Mississippi voters chose to keep the flag in the 2001 state election, and supporters said they saw it as a symbol of Southern heritage. But since then, a growing number of cities and all the state’s public universities have abandoned it.
In 2015, Republican State House speaker Philip Gunn endorsed the idea of changing the state flag after a white supremacist massacred nine black parishioners in Charleston. After the gunman’s manifesto was revealed to contain images of the Confederacy battle flag, South Carolina removed the one displayed on the state camera grounds.
Still, the issue was widely considered too volatile for Mississippi lawmakers to touch on until the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis triggered weeks of sustained protests against racial injustice, followed by calls to remove Confederate symbols.
A wave of young activists, college athletes, and business, religion, education, and sports leaders called on Mississippi to make this change, ultimately providing the impetus for lawmakers to vote. Before the governor signed the bill on Tuesday, state employees raised and lowered several of the flags on a pole outside the Capitol.
The idea met resistance to the end. Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel said changing the flag was a challenge to the country’s founding values, and warned that the American flag would be next.
Democratic Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr, who is black, argued that the state flag “should be something we are all proud of when we see it, we know it is about us.” Not just some of us.
Reeves said Tuesday: “The people of Mississippi, black and white, and young and old, can be proud of a banner that puts our faith front and center. We can unite below. We can move forward together. “