mississippi state flag controversy
The Mississippi state flag, which incorporates the Confederate battle flag, hangs with other state flags in the subway system under the U.S. Capitol in Washington, June 23, 2015. Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

As lawmakers in Mississippi began their first legislative session of the year Monday, a debate loomed over the removal of the Confederate battle symbol from the state flag. The emblem, which has been part of Mississippi’s flag for over 120 years, lost some of its esteem after a professed white supremacist who idolized the Confederate battle flag killed nine black worshippers last June at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Magnolia State is the last in the U.S. to publicly fly a flag that features the Confederate symbol. The state Legislature’s four-month session would mark the first time in 15 years that the flag gets a serious debate, the Associated Press reported.

Many people see the Confederate battle flag as reminiscent of U.S. slavery and Jim Crow-era segregation, while groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans see it as a symbol of heritage. After the Charleston massacre, several cities and counties throughout the South as well as some universities stopped flying the flag and displaying other Confederate monuments. Led by the state’s Republican governor, South Carolina voted last summer to remove the flag. City leaders in New Orleans voted last month to remove several monuments to generals and soldiers of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The Confederate battle flag has been featured in the upper left corner of Mississippi’s flag since 1894, according to the AP. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the flag lacked official status since 1906, when the Legislature didn’t carry forward laws concerning the emblem. But during a 2001 session of the state Legislature, lawmakers put the issue of the battle flag to a referendum and voters chose to keep the state flag as it is.

After Charleston, Philip Gunn, speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, said he was compelled by his Christian faith to seek changes in how Mississippi displays the flag. The state’s Republican governor, Phil Bryant, has said he would uphold voters’ 2001 decision on the flag, but also suggested that a flag redesign vote take place later this year during the high-turnout presidential election.

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