With a stroke of the governor's pen, Mississippi is retiring the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem — a symbol that's widely condemned as racist.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday signed the historic bill that takes the 126-year-old state flag out of law, immediately removing official status for the banner that has been a source of division for generations.
"This is not a political moment to me but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together, to be reconciled, and to move on," Reeves said in a statement. "We are a resilient people defined by our hospitality. We are a people of great faith. Now, more than ever, we must lean on that faith, put our divisions behind us, and unite for a greater good."
Mississippi has faced increasing pressure to change its flag since protests against racial injustice have focused attention on Confederate symbols.
Critics have said for generations that it's wrong for a state where 38% of the people are Black to have a flag marked by the Confederacy, particularly since the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have used the symbol to promote racist agendas.
Mississippi voters chose to keep the flag in a 2001 statewide election, with supporters saying they saw it as a symbol of Southern heritage. The issue was still broadly considered too volatile for legislators to touch, until the police custody death of an African American man in Minneapolis, George Floyd, set off weeks of sustained protests against racial injustice, followed by calls to take down Confederate symbols.
Now, a commission will design a new flag, one that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the words "In God We Trust." Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will draft a different design using the same guidelines, to be sent to voters later.
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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.
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