JACKSON, Miss. —
Mississippi officials held a ceremony Wednesday to retire the former state flag and send it to a history museum, a day after Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a law removing official status from the last state banner in the U.S. that included the Confederate battle emblem.
“We have much to be proud of and much to reckon with,” House Speaker Philip Gunn said during the ceremony. “This flag has flown over our best and our worst. Some flew it over their bravery to defend their homeland. And for others, it’s been a shadow over their struggle to be free.”
Mississippi faced increasing pressure in recent weeks to change its 126-year-old flag since protests against racial injustice have focused attention on Confederate symbols.
A broad coalition of legislators on Sunday passed the landmark legislation to change the flag, capping a weekend of emotional debate and decades of effort by Black lawmakers and others who see the rebel emblem as a symbol of hatred and racism.
The new law requires a ceremony for the “prompt, dignified and respectful removal” of the banner.
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Three flags that have flown over or in front of the Capitol were lowered Wednesday as dozens of people watched on the lawn or from open windows inside the building. Honor guard members from the National Guard and the Mississippi Highway Patrol presented them to Gunn, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and state Department of Archives and History director Katie Blount. Police cars with flashing blue lights escorted a vehicle that took the officials, and the flags, to the nearby Museum of Mississippi History. The museum will put one flag in an exhibit and two into archives.
Mississippi will be without a flag for at least a few months. A commission will design a new one that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the 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.
The Confederate battle emblem has a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. White supremacist legislators put it on the upper-left corner of the Mississippi flag in 1894, as white people were squelching political power that African Americans had gained after the Civil War.
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. But since then, a growing number of cities and all the state’s public universities have abandoned it.
Several Black legislators, and a few white ones, kept pushing for years to change it. After a white gunman who had posed with the Confederate flag killed Black worshipers at a South Carolina church in 2015, Mississippi’s Republican speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, said his religious faith compelled him to say that Mississippi must purge the symbol from its flag.
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. His death set off weeks of sustained protests against racial injustice, followed by calls to take down Confederate symbols.
A groundswell of young activists, college athletes and leaders from business, religion, education and sports called on Mississippi to make thechange, finally providing the momentum for legislators to vote.
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.
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