Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill Tuesday that will change the state flag by removing the Confederate battle emblem, first included 126 years ago.
Mississippi state lawmakers accelerated the measure over the weekend, with both houses voting to suspend the rules on Saturday, allowing debate and voting on the bill. Sunday passed with a 91-23 House vote that was quickly followed by a 37-14 Senate vote.
Reeves said just before signing the bill that he expected the Mississippians to leave their divisions behind to unite for the greater good.
“This is not a political moment for me, but a solemn occasion to bring the Mississippi family to unite, reconcile and move on,” said Reeves.
The governor also said he understood the fear of many that the change would begin a chain of events that could lead to the removal of the state’s complicated history. While Reeves said he is against the demolition of monuments, he said he did support a new flag.
“There is a difference between a monument and flags,” said Reeve. “A monument recognizes and honors our past. A flag is a symbol of our present, our people, and our future. For these reasons, we need a new symbol.”
The bill calls for the formation of a commission to lead a redesign of the flag that removes the Confederate symbol but maintains the slogan “In God We Trust”. A redesign approved by the committee would be placed on the November ballot.
If voters reject the new design in November, the commission would retry a new flag to be presented to the Legislature during the 2021 session.
The current flag, with red, white, and blue stripes with the Confederate battle emblem on the corner, was adopted in February 1894, according to the Mississippi Historical Society.
Other attempts to change the flag have fallen short over the years, including a 2001 public referendum in which 64 percent voted against a redesign.
Reeves said Tuesday that he still believed residents would have voted “eventually” for a new flag at the ballot box, but he did not believe the state could handle a contentious political battle amid a pandemic and other turbulent problems that emerged in 2020.
“Our economy is on the edge of a cliff,” said Reeves. “Many lives depend on us cooperating and taking care to protect each other. I concluded that our state has too much adversity to survive a bitter brother-to-brother fight.”
The new move to remove the Confederate symbol from the flag came when Mississippi was under increasing pressure, including from the NCAA, whose Southeast Conference warned earlier this month that championship games could be banned in the state if it were not changed. the flag.
After Sunday’s legislative votes, NCAA Commissioner Mark Emmert said in a statement that it was time to change the flag that “has long served as a symbol of oppression, racism and injustice.”
Mississippi’s decision to change the flag after more than a century comes during a new trial of racial inequality in the United States. In the weeks since George Floyd’s death on May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody, protesters across the country have called for systemic changes in surveillance as they tried to remove symbols of oppression.
Among the structures that have been attacked are the statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Virginia, President Andrew Jackson in Washington, DC, and Juan de Oñate, a conqueror, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.