Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill on June 30 abandoning the state’s flag and stripping the Confederate battle flag symbol from it, capping a remarkable turnaround on a banner that had flown over the state for more than a century. With Reeves’s move, Mississippi will take down one of the country’s most prominent Confederate tributes, withdrawing the only state flag that still bears such an emblem. The new flag’s design will be determined later, but lawmakers have barred it from including the most recognizable icon of the Confederacy, which many people associate with racism, slavery, and oppression. “This is not a political moment to me but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together and move on,” Reeves said at a ceremony at which he signed the measure. “A flag is a symbol of our past, our present and our future. For those reasons, we need a new symbol.” Reeves’s signature came two days after Mississippi lawmakers, facing a nationwide campaign for racial justice, passed the measure removing the state’s flag and calling for a replacement.
Lawmakers had debated the change over the weekend, with supporters of a change saying the flag had become a symbol of hatred. Opponents of jettisoning it said history would be abandoned and called instead for a statewide vote. When lawmakers voted to approve the move, loud applause broke out inside the state Capitol. “This is a new day for Mississippi,” state House Speaker Philip Gunn, who had backed a change for years, said in an interview with MSNBC, while standing in front of a man waving the state’s now-former flag. “We are not disregarding our heritage, we’re not ignoring the past, but we are embracing the future In the bill, lawmakers laid out two requirements for the flag’s eventual replacement: It cannot include the Confederate symbol and it must incorporate the phrase “In God We Trust.”
In 2015, House Speaker Philip Gunn announced his support for changing the flag during efforts to wipe Confederate iconography from public spaces after an avowed white supremacist’s massacre of nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The gunman in the Charleston shooting had posted a manifesto riddled with images of the Confederate battle flag, and in response, retailers vowed to stop selling items bearing that symbol and South Carolina took down a Confederate battle flag that had flown on its statehouse grounds. But the flag in Mississippi, a state where nearly 4 in 10 residents are black, stayed aloft until the more recent swell of activism after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The protests grew from an attack on policing tactics to a far broader campaign against racial injustice, and it has begun producing change in unexpected areas. NASCAR announced it would ban displays of the Confederate battle flag, while some demonstrators toppled or damaged Confederate memorials and other monuments, including those honoring Christopher Columbus, in cities across the country.
Opponents of Mississippi’s flag also began speaking out anew, with calls to remove it coming from a parade of powerful and high-profile voices that included college sports powerhouses, religious leaders, historical groups, and celebrities. Opponents of changing the flag had decried the move and said they felt the decision should be left up to residents. The Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans posted a statement telling lawmakers not to embark upon “some Legislative fiat, instead of allowing us to decide what our flag will be.” State Senator Chris McDaniel, who opposed altering the flag, said the legislature’s action came amid a “heavy-handed context of political correctness” in a video statement posted on Facebook. “The people of this state are incredibly frustrated,” he said in the message. “They should be incredibly frustrated. Not necessarily because the flag came down, but because [of] the way the flag came down. It came down in a manner, in a method and in a time that was completely wrongheaded.”