Mississippi lawmakers vote to remove Confederate battle emblem from its flag

Mississippi's state flag will lose its official status as soon as GOP Gov. Tate Reeves signs the measure.

Mississippi's House and Senate lawmakers on Sunday voted with bipartisan support to change the state flag by removing a Confederate battle emblem that's broadly condemned as racist.

The House passed a bill 91-23 Sunday afternoon, and the Senate passed it 37-14 later in the day.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill, and the state flag will lose its official status as soon as he signs it. A commission would design a new flag that would not include the Confederate symbol and which must include the words "In God We Trust," according to the bill.

Under the legislation, the new design -- without the Confederate symbol -- would appear on the ballot Nov. 3, but it would be the only choice. If a majority were to accept the new design, it would become the state flag. If a majority were to reject it, the commission would design a new flag using the same guidelines.

A Mississippi state flag outside the Capitol in Jackson last week.

A Mississippi state flag outside the Capitol in Jackson last week. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, has pushed for five years to change the flag, saying that the Confederate symbol was offensive.

The flag's supporters resisted efforts to change it for decades, but rapid developments in recent weeks have changed dynamics on this issue in the tradition-bound state.

As protests against racial injustice recently spread across the U.S., including Mississippi, leaders from business, religion, education, and sports have spoken forcefully against the state flag. They have urged legislators to ditch the 126-year-old banner for one that better reflects the diversity of a state where 38 percent of its citizens are black.

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The state House and Senate met Saturday and took a big step: By two-thirds margins, they suspended legislative deadlines so a flag bill could be filed. Spectators cheered as each chamber voted, and legislators seeking the change embraced each other.

Democratic Sen. David Jordan, who is African-American, has pushed for decades to change the flag. He smiled broadly after Saturday's vote and said, "This is such a metamorphosis."

Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem -- a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. The flag has been divisive for generations. All of the state's public universities have stopped flying it, as have a growing number of cities and counties.

White supremacists in the Mississippi Legislature had set the state flag design in 1894 during backlash to the political power that African Americans gained after the Civil War.

Former state Rep. Steve Holland was at the Capitol on Sunday urging legislators to change the flag. As a Democrat in the state House in 2000, Holland served on a commission that held public hearings about the flag. He said Sunday that he and other commissioners received death threats back then.

Holland, who is white, said he voted in the 2001 election to keep the flag but he now sees the rebel symbol as harmful.

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Reeves and many other politicians have said people should get to vote on a flag design in another statewide election.

People wanting to keep the Confederate-themed flag could gather more than 100,000 signatures to put that design up for statewide election. It's too late to get it on the ballot this November, though, because of timelines set in state law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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