On Tuesday, June 30, 2020, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill retiring the state flag. The flag had been in use in the state since February 7, 1894, when it was adopted by the state legislature.
Reeves said, “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.”
Mississippi’s flag had been a source of debate and division for decades as it featured the Confederate Battle Flag in the design. That flag was an unofficial flag of the common Confederate soldier during the Civil War. For some Mississippians, the battle flag was considered “racist” and for others it was considered “heritage.”
In 2001, the state held a referendum to decide the fate of the Mississippi flag, and by an overwhelming majority, Mississippians voted to keep the official flag of the state. The official vote tally was 64% (488,630 votes) to 36% (267,812), an almost 2-to-1 margin.
The flag came under fire in recent years.
After the 2015 shooting at a church in South Carolina, all eight public universities in the state of Mississippi refused to fly the flag. Mississippi’s flag was also excluded from national displays of all 50 state flags in New Jersey, Oregon, and Philadelphia.
Efforts to change the flag were renewed when nationwide protests arose after the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man who lived in Minneapolis.
After considerable pressure from outside groups, including the sports clubs South Eastern Conference and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, coaches and athletes from the state’s colleges lobbied Mississippi legislature to officially remove Mississippi’s flag.
State lawmakers led by Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, held a vote on June 27, 2020, to suspend the rules of Congress to address the flag issue. The motion was passed with the House approving by a vote of 85–34 and the Senate approving by a vote of 36–14.
On June 28, the State Legislature passed bill 1796 that relinquished the state flag, removed the flag from public buildings with fifteen days of the bill’s effective date, and constituted a nine-member commission to design a new flag that would be put to voters in a referendum to be held on November 3, 2020.
In the House, the bill was passed by 91 in favor and 23 against. In the Senate, the bill was passed with 37 in favor and 14 against. Lafayette County State Senator Nicole Boyd and Representative Clay Deweese voted yes while Representative Brady Williamson voted no.
The bill requires that the Confederate Battle Flag may not be included, but that the words “In God We Trust” must be included in the new flag design. If the new design is rejected by voters in November, the commission will be forced to come up with another design with the same criteria to be voted on. The process repeats until a flag is approved by the voters of the state.
On Tuesday, June 30, Governor Reeves signed the bill into law.
“I’ve heard people talk about the ‘eyes of the nation’ were on our state,” Governor Tate Reeves said on Wednesday, “I wasn’t all that focused on the ‘eyes of the nation’.”
“I was focused on looking in the eyes of my fellow Mississippians and make sure we can all be proud of our symbols and be all proud of moving our state into the future.”