As pressure for change mounted and the nation watched, the Mississippi House of Representatives cast a historic vote to replace the Mississippi flag with its Confederate battle emblem, the last in the nation to wave the divisive symbol.
The House voted 85-34 to suspend the rules so legislators can consider a bill that would do several things:
- Remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.
- Establish a commission to come up with a new flag design, which must include the words, “In God We Trust,” by Sept. 14.
- Put the new flag design before Mississippi voters in a Nov. 3 special referendum.
- The new design cannot include the Confederate battle emblem.
The measure now heads to the state Senate, which must also suspend the rules before the bill on changing the flag can be considered.
In the face of a growing Black Lives Matter movement, the Confederate flag’s long and sometimes violent embrace by white supremacists, including the Ku Klux Klan, overcame vocal opposition from those who claim the flag represents their Southern heritage.
“The eyes of our state, the nation and indeed the world are on the House this morning,” House Speaker Pro Tem Jason White of Holmes County said on the floor early Saturday afternoon. “History will be made here today. We’ve had many conversations about why this is being done.”
“Whether we like it or not, the Confederate emblem on current state flag is viewed by many as a symbol of hate. There’s no getting around that fact.”
To pass, the resolution suspending the rules needed a two-thirds majority because the the deadline for general legislation had passed.
An amendment offered by Republican Rep. Jeffrey Guice of Ocean Springs would have put the flag to a vote, but it failed.
The Senate also needs a two-thirds majority to suspend the rules for a flag bill to move forward.
Gov. Tate Reeves, who has said he wanted another vote of the people to decide the flag’s fate, said earlier this week that he would not veto a bill changing the flag. The two-thirds vote for a suspension of rules indicated the Legislature would have the votes to override any veto, he said in a Facebook post.
House Speaker Philip Gunn spoke Thursday before the vote on the stairs inside the ornate Capitol, with coaches and athletic directors behind him from the state’s public universities.
Gunn, who in 2015 became the first state-level Republican to call for changing the flag, mentioned just a few of the groups that wanted the current state flag down: Baptists, Presbyterians, NASCAR, the U.S. Marine Corps and scores of business leaders.
“This entire state is screaming for a change,” Gunn said. “This entire state. All the business leaders, the religious leaders, the athletic leaders, the citizens are screaming for change..
“This is an issue that needs to be resolved and resolved quickly. The longer it goes, the more it festers and the harder it’s going to be later on. The image of our state is at stake here, ladies and gentleman.
“The nation is watching. They want to know what we as a state stand for.
“And this image has been co-opted by those who wish to use it to represent hatred and racism. That’s just a fact.”
The current state flag was adopted by the Legislature in 1894 but was no longer the official flag of the state after 1906 because of a legal oversight. Mississippians voted in a 2001 referendum by a 2-to-1 margin to keep the flag with Confederate battle emblem.
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