Mis­sis­sippi’s leg­is­la­ture voted to re­place the state’s flag, the last in the na­tion to fea­ture the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle sym­bol.

House and Se­nate pass mea­sure to re­move Con­fed­er­ate sym­bol

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY BRIT­TANY SHAM­MAS brit­tany.sham­mas@wash­post.com

The last state flag in the na­tion to promi­nently fea­ture the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle em­blem is poised to come down across Mis­sis­sippi, after state law­mak­ers voted Sun­day to re­place the 126-year-old de­sign.

Amid a na­tional reck­on­ing over racial in­jus­tice, the House, and then the Se­nate, ap­proved the mea­sure to loud ap­plause. By late Sun­day, the bill was headed to Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who in­di­cated pre­vi­ously that he would sign it. With his ap­proval, the flag must be re­moved from gov­ern­ment build­ings within 15 days.

The flag’s re­tire­ment gained leg­isla­tive ap­proval late in the after­noon, by mar­gins of 91 to 23 in the House and 37 to 14 in the Se­nate, after sen­a­tors tabled an amend­ment that would have left the de­ci­sion with vot­ers via a ref­er­en­dum. Be­fore vot­ing, law­mak­ers lined up to of­fer im­pas­sioned speeches both for and against re­plac­ing the flag, which has weath­ered pre­vi­ous crit­i­cism and re­moval at­tempts.

“In the name of history, I stand for my two sons who are 1 and 6 years old,” said Sen. Der­rick Sim­mons (D), who is black. “Who should be ed­u­cated in schools, be able to fre­quent busi­nesses and ex­press their black voices in pub­lic spa­ces that all fly a sym­bol of love, not hate. A sym­bol of unity, not di­vi­sion. A sym­bol that rep­re­sents all Mis­sis­sip­pi­ans, not some.”

Sen. Chris Mcdaniel (R), one of the most vo­cal op­po­nents of chang­ing the flag, ar­gued that do­ing so could lead to a slip­pery slope, say­ing at­tempts are be­ing made na­tion­ally to chal­lenge the na­tion’s found­ing and history. He made a fi­nal plea for vot­ers to be al­lowed to choose. “After all,” he said, “it’s their state, not ours.”

But in a state that is nearly 40 per­cent black, the flag’s Con­fed­er­ate iconog­ra­phy has long been di­vi­sive. Adopted in 1894, nearly 30 years after the end of the Civil War, it fea­tures the Con­fed­er­ate em­blem — 13 white stars atop a blue X with a red back­ground — in the up­per-left cor­ner.

Although it had in­creas­ingly come to be viewed as a sym­bol of op­pres­sion, the flag still draws de­fend­ers who con­sider it part of their her­itage. Law­mak­ers who did not sup­port aban­don­ing the de­sign said their con­stituents had voiced pas­sion­ate and emo­tional pleas to keep it.

“When we re­move our history or set our history aside, then we lose the op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate and in­form and to have a con­ver­sa­tion about what the true mean­ing of things are,” said Sen. Me­lanie So­journer (R), adding that “if we re­move things, we don’t have the op­por­tu­nity to have the con­ver­sa­tions.”

Be­fore this month, the flag faced its most se­ri­ous chal­lenge in 2001, when a ref­er­en­dum of­fered vot­ers a choice of whether to re­place it. They voted 2 to 1 to keep it. That year, the only other state whose flag bore the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle em­blem, Ge­or­gia, changed it after a leg­isla­tive show­down.

Over the years, var­i­ous bills to re­tire Mis­sis­sippi’s flag have not achieved any real mo­men­tum. But after wide­spread protests of racial in­jus­tice fo­cused re­newed at­ten­tion on sym­bols of the Con­fed­er­acy, state of­fi­cials had faced mount­ing pres­sure.

In the past few weeks, busi­nesses, uni­ver­si­ties and faith lead­ers de­manded its re­place­ment. In­flu­en­tial in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, joined those calls. Univer­sity coaches and ath­letes came to the cap­i­tal, Jack­son, to urge law­mak­ers to act. Wal­mart stopped fly­ing the flag at its stores, and the Na­tional Col­le­giate Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion an­nounced a ban on hold­ing cham­pi­onship events in states where the Con­fed­er­ate sym­bol “has a promi­nent pres­ence” — a mea­sure that ap­plied only to Mis­sis­sippi.

Leg­is­la­tors who had pre­vi­ously op­posed re­plac­ing the flag be­gan to change their stances, with some cit­ing fear that the state would lose out on job cre­ation and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment if it clung to the Con­fed­er­ate sym­bol.

Nathan R. Shrader, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Mis­sis­sippi’s Mill­saps Col­lege, called Sun­day’s vote the re­sult of a “con­flu­ence of events” that sped up a grad­ual shift away from the once-pre­dom­i­nant po­si­tion of keep­ing the old flag. He said that although there were am­ple signs that the shift was hap­pen­ing, with younger gen­er­a­tions es­pe­cially in fa­vor of a change, few would have ex­pected even a vote on a change when the leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­gan this year.

“In 1865, the Con­fed­er­acy sur­ren­dered and now in 2020, an­other piece of it falls here in one of the last bas­tions of where it’s up­held in the state’s of­fi­cial sym­bol­ogy,” he said. “That, to me, is what I think is his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant and po­lit­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant.”

Leg­is­la­tors cleared the first hur­dle to­ward re­mov­ing the old flag on Satur­day, fol­low­ing days of ten­sion in the state leg­is­la­ture. That morn­ing, Reeves — who said on Wed­nes­day that there was “an ef­fort un­der­way across the coun­try to erase our na­tion’s history” — said it was time “to re­solve that the page has been turned.”

Hours later, the House and then the Se­nate swiftly passed mea­sures al­low­ing a vote on the flag. Those votes were pro­ce­dural: Be­cause the leg­isla­tive ses­sion was near­ing its end, law­mak­ers had to ap­prove a mea­sure sus­pend­ing a dead­line to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion on the flag.

The leg­is­la­tion ap­proved on Sun­day calls for the cre­ation of a com­mit­tee to ap­prove a new de­sign. There are two re­quire­ments for a new flag. It must fea­ture the words “In God We Trust,” and it can­not in­clude the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle em­blem. The pro­posed de­sign would go be­fore vot­ers in Novem­ber for ap­proval; if re­jected, a dif­fer­ent one would then be cre­ated and pre­sented to vot­ers.

ROGELIO V. SOLIS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Don Hart­ness of El­lisville, Miss., walks around the capi­tol in Jack­son on Satur­day car­ry­ing the state flag and the Amer­i­can flag. Both cham­bers of the leg­is­la­ture voted Sun­day to re­move the Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols from the flag, which was adopted in 1894.

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