by Emily Wagster Pettus
JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Mississippi is on the verge of changing its state flag to erase a Confederate battle emblem that in recent years has become broadly condemned as virulently racist.
The flag’s supporters resisted efforts to change it for decades, but rapid developments in recent weeks have changed dynamics on this issue in the tradition-bound state.
As protests against racial injustice recently spread across the U.S., including Mississippi, leaders from business, religion, education and sports have spoken forcefully against the state flag. They have urged legislators to ditch the 126-year-old banner for one that better reflects the diversity of a state with a 38% Black population.
Legislators are expected to start voting Sunday to remove the current flag from state law. A commission would design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust.”
The state House and Senate met Saturday and took a big step: By two-thirds margins, they suspended legislative deadlines so a flag bill could be filed. Spectators cheered as each chamber voted, and legislators seeking the change embraced each other.
“There are economic issues. There are issues involving football or whatever,” Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said Saturday. “But this vote came from the heart. That makes it so much more important.”
Democratic Sen. David Jordan, who is African American, has pushed for decades to change the flag. He smiled broadly after Saturday’s vote and said, “This is such a metamorphosis.”
Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem – originally known as the Virginia Battle Flag – a red field topped by a blue “x” with 13 white stars. The flag has been divisive for generations. The state’s public universities have stopped flying it, as have a growing number of cities and counties.
The now-controversial design was adopted roughly 30 years after the Civil War in 1894 by White supremacists in the Democrat-controlled Mississippi Legislature during backlash to the political power that Republican African Americans gained.
In 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the flag lacked official status. State laws were updated in 1906, and portions dealing with the flag were not carried forward. Legislators set a flag election in 2001, and voters kept the rebel-themed design.
Former Ole Miss basketball player Blake Hinson told his hometown Daytona Beach (Florida) News-Journal that the Mississippi flag played a part in his decision to transfer to Iowa State.
“It was time to go and leave Ole Miss,” Hinson said. “I’m proud not to represent that flag anymore and to not be associated with anything representing the Confederacy.”
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Saturday for the first time that he would sign a bill to change the flag if the Republican-controlled Legislature sends him one.
Reeves and many other politicians have said people should get to vote on a flag design in another statewide election. The new design — without the Confederate symbol — will be put on the ballot Nov. 3, but it will be the only choice. If a majority voting that day accept the new design, it will become the state flag. If a majority reject it, the commission will design a new flag using the same guidelines.
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Emily Wagster Pettus reports for The Associated Press. Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.
About the Headline Photo: Don Hartness of Ellisville, walks around the Capitol carrying the current Mississippi state flag and the American flag, Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. A supporter of the current flag, Hartness wanted to make his position known to lawmakers as he walked around the building for several hours. The current state flag has in the canton portion of the banner the design of the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag, that has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)