KEY POINTS

  • The Mississippi Legislature voted to remove the state flag and put together a commission to design new flags, letting voters decide on a design in November
  • Mississippi's state flag was the last one to use the Confederate battle flag and has flown over the state since 1894
  • The flag was removed amid mounting pressure from the state's Black population, the Southeastern Conference, and the Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd's death

Following the trend of removing Confederate imagery, the Mississippi Legislature voted to redesign the state’s flag. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the state House, 91-23, followed by the state Senate, 37-14, Sunday, and Gov. Tate Reeves said he would sign it when it reached his office. A commission will be formed after the signing for design options that voters will vote on during the November elections.

The new flag will incorporate the phrase “In God We Trust” and is expected to be presented to the Legislature at the beginning of 2021.

“There are economic issues. There are issues involving football or whatever,” Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann told reporters Saturday. “But this vote came from the heart. That makes it so much more important.”

Sunday’s vote followed weeks of growing pressure sparked by the Black Lives Matter protests to change the flag because of its direct tie to the Confederacy. U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2019  put the state's Black population at 37.8%.

Arguably the greatest pressure came from the Southeastern Conference, or SEC, which threatened not to hold any college sports championship events in Mississippi until the flag was changed.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey made his intentions clear in a statement released on June 18.

Several schools, including Ole Miss, voiced their support for the SEC’s decision.

“Mississippi needs a flag that represents the qualities about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us,” Ole Miss Chancellor Glenn Boyce and Vice Chancellor Keith Carter said in a public statement. “We support the SEC's position for changing the Mississippi state flag to an image that is more welcoming and inclusive for all people.”

The news was met with largely positive responses on Twitter though there were some who objected.

Mississippi’s second state flag was adopted in 1894, nearly 30 years after the end of the Civil War, as a replacement for the “Magnolia Flag.” Mississippi was among many states to adopt Confederate imagery in some form, whether it was flags or monuments, to mark the beginning of segregation and the Jim Crow era in the South.

For a time, Mississippi and Georgia were the only two states that openly displayed the Confederate battle flag on their respective state flags. Georgia’s was redesigned in 1956. Author Lucas Carpenter said in a Callaloo journal article for the Johns Hopkins University Press that Georgia’s 1956 redesign was seen as a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education to end segregation in schools. The Georgia State Assembly moved to change the flag’s design in 2001, adopting the current design in 2003.

Georgia’s current flag has also been a subject of criticism as its design is based on the Confederacy’s original flag, known as “Stars and Bars.”

Mississippi’s flag, on the other hand, stood for more than a century before serious opposition emerged in the early 2000s. A referendum was held in 2001 under then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who put together an independent commission to design new flags. However, the proposed new flag was defeated in the referendum 64% to 36%.

In 2014, a group formed promoting a new potential state flag, titled the “ospitality Flag. Designed with two vertical red bats, one white vertical bar, and 20 stars meant to reflect Mississippi's hospitable nature.

“The Hospitality Flag has flown across our state at homes, businesses, football tailgates, cars, boats and everywhere in between,” the group Hospitality Flag for Mississippi said on its website. “The design represents history, hope and hospitality, with all Mississippians in mind.”

Efforts to change the flag gained renewed strength in the wake of the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. To pressure the Legislature, Mississippi’s eight public universities refused to continue flying the flag until it was changed. Around 20 bills were introduced between 2015 and 2016 with proposals on how to change the flag, but none made it out of committee.

However, the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests provided the final push.

There has still been opposition to changing the flag. One of those voices belongs to George Bond, the head of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Mississippi chapter. Bond echoes the typical argument given by supporters of Confederate imagery, saying the flag represented the battle for states' rights and their “heritage,” and by removing it, they are “erasing history.”

“That flag, to them, represented home, represented Mississippi,” Bond told PBS.

The Mississippi Legislature has not said if there are plans to remove smaller Confederate statues and art in the Capitol in Jackson.

Mississippi An appeal from an African-American attorney, which challenged the use of confederate symbol on the Mississippi state flag, was thrown out by the Supreme Court. In this photo, the Mississippi State flags flies in Pascagoula, Mississippi,April 17, 2001. Photo: Getty Images/ Bill Colgin