‘A long time com­ing’

Mis­sis­sippi law­mak­ers’ vote to re­move a Con­fed­er­ate em­blem from the state flag is a mo­ment to be cel­e­brated.

The Washington Post - - TUESDAY OPINION -

AS SOON as it was an­nounced that the Mis­sis­sippi Se­nate had voted 37 to 14 to re­move a Con­fed­er­ate em­blem from the state flag, ap­plause broke out from peo­ple who had gath­ered in the state Capi­tol’s cor­ri­dors and visi­tors’ gal­leries. “This was a long time com­ing,” said one NAACP vol­un­teer — who had been in­volved in ef­forts to change the flag for two decades. No ques­tion the de­ci­sion to jet­ti­son a sym­bol en­shrin­ing the fight to pre­serve slav­ery and its hate­ful legacy of seg­re­ga­tion was way over­due. Still, it’s a mo­ment to be cel­e­brated.

Sunday’s vote by both cham­bers of the leg­is­la­ture — the House tally was 91 to 23 — re­tires the last state flag in the coun­try to con­tain a clear and un­mis­tak­able sym­bol of the Con­fed­er­acy. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said he will sign the bill, and a new stan­dard will be de­signed for ap­proval by vot­ers. A flag that de­buted in 1894 with red, white and blue stripes and the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle em­blem in the cor­ner will fi­nally be gone.

The flag has long been a source of con­tro­versy — and pain to African Amer­i­can res­i­dents of the state who saw it as an en­dur­ing re­minder of white supremacy, ter­ror, lynch­ing and ex­clu­sion. But ef­forts to get rid of it failed, no­tably in a 2001 ref­er­en­dum that lost by a nearly 2-to-1 mar­gin. No one at the start of this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion gave much chance to the cam­paign; the most op­ti­mistic view was for an­other ref­er­en­dum. But the po­lit­i­cal bal­ance was up­ended by the death of Ge­orge Floyd and sub­se­quent protests against racial in­equal­ity.

Cas­cad­ing pub­lic pres­sure from many sec­tors led to the change of heart of both the Repub­li­can­con­trolled leg­is­la­ture and the gov­er­nor. Wal­mart stopped fly­ing the flag at its stores. Coun­try mu­sic star Faith Hill tweeted sup­port for the change. The Mis­sis­sippi Eco­nomic Coun­cil warned about a busi­ness back­lash. The South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion added its pow­er­ful voice. Most no­tably — con­sid­er­ing how dear foot­ball is to the state — was the threat from the NCAA and the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence to deny Mis­sis­sippi any cham­pi­onship events as long as the Con­fed­er­ate sym­bol re­mained on the flag. Ku­dos to them, to Mis­sis­sippi State’s star run­ning back Kylin Hill, who threat­ened to trans­fer if the flag were not changed, and to oth­ers who spoke up.

Re­mov­ing sym­bols that hurt and in­flame is im­por­tant but of course not enough. Laws, at­ti­tudes and prac­tices all need to change to ad­dress po­lice bru­tal­ity, vote sup­pres­sion and eco­nomic in­equal­ity. That is why it is crit­i­cal for peo­ple to get out and vote in Novem­ber for can­di­dates who will help lead the way.

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