Mississippi lawmakers voted Sunday to remove the Confederate flag emblem, which dates back to the U.S. Civil War, from the state’s flag.
The move had wide support from both political parties in the two houses of the state’s legislature. People cheered the votes and lawmakers hugged each other. Governor Tate Reeves, a member of the Republican Party, said he will sign the bill into law “in coming days.”
Mississippi is the last state of the Confederacy to keep the Confederate battle emblem on its state flag. The emblem served as the flag for the 13 states that sought to withdraw from the United States, starting the Civil War in the 1860s. The emblem is widely considered a sign of racial oppression.
Thirty-eight percent of the state’s population is black. African Americans and others have pushed for the change for years.
Representative Robert Johnson of Natchez held back tears as he spoke to reporters. He said the Confederate emblem was painful to him and other African Americans. He praised the understanding that his white colleagues had developed.
“They began to understand and feel the same thing that I’ve been feeling for 61 years of my life,” Johnson said.
A commission will design a new flag. The Confederate emblem is barred from appearing. However, the new flag is required to have the words, “In God We Trust,” on it.
House Speaker Philip Gunn has supported changing the flag for five years. He said it was offensive. Mississippi’s House passed the bill 91 to 23 on Sunday and hours later the Senate voted 37 to 14 for the change.
Voters will decide on the new design in the next election on November 3. If they reject that design, the commission will create a different one using the same guidelines.
An increasing number of cities and all of the state’s public universities would not show the flag in recent years. Religious groups, including the Mississippi Baptist Convention, said removing the emblem was a moral issue. Business groups said the flag hurt economic development for the state which is considered the poorest in the nation. In addition, college sports organization threatened to bar Mississippi schools from some sporting events if the state kept its flag.
However, many people in the state said they wanted to keep the emblem as a sign of the state’s history. Lawmakers put the sign, a red field with a blue X containing 13 stars, in the upper left of the Mississippi flag in 1894.
In 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court found that the Confederate emblem was not included when state laws were updated in 1906. This meant that the flag was not official. The issue was put to a public vote. But the people of Mississippi voted to keep the flag.
Former Governor William Winter said removing the Confederate emblem was “long overdue.”
State Senator Derrick Simmons of the Democratic Party said the state should have a flag that makes all people living in it proud.
“Today is a history-making day in the state of Mississippi,” Simmons said.
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
Emily Wagster Pettus reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
emblem –n. an image that represents an idea
colleague –n. a person who works with you
proud –adj. causing a feeling of happiness or being pleased with something