With a pen stroke, Mississippi drops Confederate flag

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — With a stroke of the governor’s pen, Mississippi is retiring the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem — a symbol that’s widely condemned as racist.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday signed the historic bill that takes the 126-year-old state flag out of law, immediately removing official status for the banner that has been a source of division for generations.

“This is not a political moment to me but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together, to be reconciled, and to move on," Reeves said in a statement. “We are a resilient people defined by our hospitality. We are a people of great faith. Now, more than ever, we must lean on that faith, put our divisions behind us, and unite for a greater good.”

Mississippi has faced increasing pressure to change its flag since protests against racial injustice have focused attention on Confederate symbols.

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.

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.

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Theodore Roosevelt's statue in NYC
NEW YORK, NY: JUNE 17: A statue of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on a horse with an Indigenous person walking alongside him on his right as well as an African American person walking alongside on his left side is depicted at the entrance to the Museum of Natural History. For years, this symbol of American superiority has adorned the museum even as calls for its removal have been numerous. A NYPD patrol car sits in front of statue for protection during the American uprising on June 17, 2020 in New York City. Credit: mpi43/MediaPunch /IPX
NEW YORK, NY: JUNE 17: A statue of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on a horse with an Indigenous person walking alongside him on his right as well as an African American person walking alongside on his left side is depicted at the entrance to the Museum of Natural History. For years, this symbol of American superiority has adorned the museum even as calls for its removal have been numerous. A NYPD patrol car sits in front of statue for protection during the American uprising on June 17, 2020 in New York City. Credit: mpi43/MediaPunch /IPX
NEW YORK, NY: JUNE 17: A statue of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on a horse with an Indigenous person walking alongside him on his right as well as an African American person walking alongside on his left side is depicted at the entrance to the Museum of Natural History. For years, this symbol of American superiority has adorned the museum even as calls for its removal have been numerous. A NYPD patrol car sits in front of statue for protection during the American uprising on June 17, 2020 in New York City. Credit: mpi43/MediaPunch /IPX
NEW YORK, NY: JUNE 17: A statue of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on a horse with an Indigenous person walking alongside him on his right as well as an African American person walking alongside on his left side is depicted at the entrance to the Museum of Natural History. For years, this symbol of American superiority has adorned the museum even as calls for its removal have been numerous. A NYPD patrol car sits in front of statue for protection during the American uprising on June 17, 2020 in New York City. Credit: mpi43/MediaPunch /IPX
NEW YORK, NY: JUNE 17: A statue of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on a horse with an Indigenous person walking alongside him on his right as well as an African American person walking alongside on his left side is depicted at the entrance to the Museum of Natural History. For years, this symbol of American superiority has adorned the museum even as calls for its removal have been numerous. A NYPD patrol car sits in front of statue for protection during the American uprising on June 17, 2020 in New York City. Credit: mpi43/MediaPunch /IPX
NEW YORK, NY: JUNE 17: A statue of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on a horse with an Indigenous person walking alongside him on his right as well as an African American person walking alongside on his left side is depicted at the entrance to the Museum of Natural History. For years, this symbol of American superiority has adorned the museum even as calls for its removal have been numerous. A NYPD patrol car sits in front of statue for protection during the American uprising on June 17, 2020 in New York City. Credit: mpi43/MediaPunch /IPX
NEW YORK, NY: JUNE 17: A statue of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt on a horse with an Indigenous person walking alongside him on his right as well as an African American person walking alongside on his left side is depicted at the entrance to the Museum of Natural History. For years, this symbol of American superiority has adorned the museum even as calls for its removal have been numerous. A NYPD patrol car sits in front of statue for protection during the American uprising on June 17, 2020 in New York City. Credit: mpi43/MediaPunch /IPX
In this Nov. 17, 2017 file photo, visitors to the American Museum of Natural History in New York look at a statue of Theodore Roosevelt, flanked by a Native American man and African American man. The statue will be coming down after the museum's proposal to remove it was approved by the city (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 16: A view of the Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt at American Museum of Natural History on June 16, 2020 in New York City. The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis has brought a heightened awareness to racial justice across America, and many have long called for taking down statues of Confederate generals and others who helped perpetuate racial injustice. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 16: A view of the Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt at American Museum of Natural History on June 16, 2020 in New York City. The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis has brought a heightened awareness to racial justice across America, and many have long called for taking down statues of Confederate generals and others who helped perpetuate racial injustice. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 16: A view of the Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt at American Museum of Natural History on June 16, 2020 in New York City. The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis has brought a heightened awareness to racial justice across America, and many have long called for taking down statues of Confederate generals and others who helped perpetuate racial injustice. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 16: A police car stands by guarded barricades near the Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt at American Museum of Natural History on June 16, 2020 in New York City. The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis has brought a heightened awareness to racial justice across America, and many have long called for taking down statues of Confederate generals and others who helped perpetuate racial injustice. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/10/26: Roosevelt statue covered in "blood". The statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York was covered with a blood-like substance by activists demanding its removal. Police arrived on the scene and cordoned off the statue with crime scene tape since they were not able to determine if real blood was used. (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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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, 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 this change, finally providing the momentum for legislators to vote.

Before the governor signed the bill Tuesday, state employees raised and lowered several of the flags on a pole outside the Capitol. The secretary of state's office sells flags for $20 each. A spokeswoman for that office, Kendra James, said Tuesday there has been a recent increase in requests from people wanting to buy one.

During news conferences in recent weeks, Reeves had repeatedly refused to say whether he thought the Confederate-themed flag properly represents present-day Mississippi, sticking to a position he ran on last year, when he promised people that if the flag design was going to be reconsidered, it would be done in another statewide election.

Now, a commission will design a new flag, one that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the new 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.

Said Reeves in signing over the flag's demise, “We are all Mississippians and we must all come together. What better way to do that than include “In God We Trust” on our new state banner."

He added: “The people of Mississippi, black and white, and young and old, can be proud of a banner that puts our faith front and center. We can unite under it. We can move forward —together."

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