The state Senate is expected on Wednesday to pass on to the governor final ratification of a new state flag — sans the divisive Confederate battle emblem that flew for 126 years.
The House on Monday voted 119-1 to accept the new “In God We Trust” Mississippi flag, after more than 70% of state voters approved it in November. The measure — the first bill of the 2021 legislative session, which began on Tuesday — cleared a Senate committee on Tuesday with no opposition.
A Senate floor vote on the bill is expected on Wednesday. If passed there, the bill would then move to the governor’s desk for signature or veto.
“This new flag boldly declares our trust in God, that we are all equal in his eyes …” said Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who for years was the lone statewide GOP leader advocating for changing the flag. “May God bless our efforts, and may God bless Mississippi as we set sail under this new flag.”
The Mississippi Legislature in June removed the old flag, which was adopted by racist lawmakers in 1894. It was the last in the nation to carry the divisive Confederate battle emblem. Lawmakers faced growing pressure from religious, business, sports and community leaders to remove the vestige of the state’s Jim Crow past from a flag flying over the state with the largest percentage population of Black residents.
An appointed commission reviewed about 3,000 public submissions for new flag designs over the summer and in September chose the new design with a magnolia and stars — a combination of multiple submissions. Lawmakers had stipulated in June that the new design include the words In God We Trust and that it not include the Confederate battle emblem.
On Nov. 3, 71.3% of Mississippi voters approved the new design in an up-or-down vote. But lawmakers still must put the design into the state lawbooks.
The measure the House passed Tuesday includes the description:
“The Magnolia is the state flower of Mississippi and is a symbol that has long represented our state and the hospitality of our citizens, and also represents our state’s sense of hope and rebirth as the Magnolia often blooms more than once and has a long blooming season. The circle of twenty stars represents Mississippi as the twentieth state of the United States of America and the circle is anchored at the top by the gold five-point star, which represents our first peoples, the indigenous Native American tribes of the land that would become Mississippi, and also represents Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia/Oceania and Europe, which are the five inhabited areas of the world from which all Mississippians originate. The color blue in the center panel echoes the blue of the American flag, representing vigilance, justice and perseverance, and the red bars represent the hardiness and valor of our citizens. The gold bars and the gold stamen of the Magnolia represent the rich cultural history of Mississippi, specifically the visual arts, literature, music and performing arts that have originated in our state.”
House lawmakers also approved an appropriation of $10,000 for the Department of Finance and Administration to buy new flags for state buildings this year.
Longtime state Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, on Tuesday said, “I’m elated we finally did it.”
“Maybe we are headed in the right direction,” Clarke said. “We are doing the right thing here.”
House Democratic Leader Robert Johnson of Natchez said: “I still can’t stop thinking that more than 70% of the people of the state of Mississippi passed this flag — even after 27 years in the Legislature that amazes me.
“I’m hopeful this marks a change in Mississippi, not just of a symbol, but of people coming together to meet the needs of all the people of Mississippi,” Johnson said.
T.J. Taylor, who served on the commission appointed to pick a new flag design, was at the Capitol on Tuesday and said lawmakers finalizing the flag feels like closure.
“Hopefully now it’s just a formality, after voters came out and supported it like they did,” Taylor said. “… I feel like this is closure, that we can move on and not have to worry about it any more.”
But one group, Let Mississippi Vote, hopes to overturn the Legislature’s removal of the old flag. It has mounted a petition drive to place on the ballot — as early as 2022 — an initiative that would allow voters to restore the 1894 flag, or select other options including the In God We Trust flag.
On Tuesday, Rep. Steve Horne, R-Meridian, cast the lone no vote on the new flag. He was unavailable for comment after the vote. Rep. Dan Eubanks, R-Walls, voted present.
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The powerful Mississippi Baptist Convention on Tuesday called for state leaders to change the Mississippi flag, with its Confederate battle emblem in one corner.
“It has become apparent that the discussion about changing the flag of Mississippi is not merely a political issue,” Baptist leaders said in a statement. “… The racial overtones of the flag’s appearance make this discussion a moral issue. Since the principal teachings of Scripture are opposed to racism, a stand against such is a matter of biblical morality.”
The convention includes about 2,100 churches in Mississippi, and Baptists are the largest denomination in the state, with over 500,000 members. Leaders said their stance on the flag doesn’t represent every member church, but they believe it represents a majority and asked for “Mississippi Baptists to make this a matter of prayer and to seek the Lord’s guidance in standing for love instead of oppression, unity instead of division, and the gospel of Christ instead of the power of this world.”
The convention’s statement said: “Given the moral and spiritual nature of this issue, Mississippi Baptist leaders offer prayers for our state officials to have wisdom, courage and compassion to move forward. We encourage our governor and state Legislature to take the necessary steps to adopt a new flag for the state of Mississippi that represents the dignity of every Mississippian and promotes unity rather than division.”
Under growing pressure to change the flag after decades of bitter debate, Mississippi legislative leaders say they are discussing the issue, but lack votes to change it as their regular session draws to a close.
Mississippi business, church and community leaders have called for a change, and the state faces intensified national scrutiny amid calls for removal of relics of slavery and the Confederacy.
On Monday, Mississippi State’s star running back Kylin Hill tweeted that he would not play football until the flag changed.
The Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, has long called for new state flag. In a statement last week, MEC said the current flag “Is offensive to many, not representative of all Mississippians and perpetuates negative stereotypes of our state.”
“MEC feels strongly that adoption of a new flag is a timely and high profile action that would improve Mississippi’s image, advance a new narrative about our state, and set the stage to enhance economic opportunities and improve quality of life in a fair and inclusive manner for every Mississippian.”
Poll: For first time ever, most Mississippians support changing state flag
The state’s chamber of commerce has released a new poll that shows a seismic shift among Mississippi voters in favor of changing the state flag to remove its Confederate battle emblem.
The poll released by the Mississippi Economic Council shows voters favorable to changing the flag 55% to 41%, a flip from a 2019 poll that showed 54% of voters favored keeping the current flag. MEC says polling data supports its call for the Legislature to act this week to “change the flag now.”
The poll was conducted last week by the Tarrance Group, a company with extensive political polling experience in Mississippi that has polled voters on the flag issue for years. It also showed that support for changing the flag jumped to 72% when people were asked about changing to a “state seal flag” that includes the motto “In God We Trust.” The survey showed the state seal version has support from a majority of Black and white Mississippians.
That the poll was backed by MEC will likely carry weight with lawmakers, who often look to the influential chamber of commerce for economic development counsel.
“In the nearly 20 years we have held the position of changing the state flag, we have never seen voters so much in favor of change,” said Scott Waller, president of MEC. “These recent polling numbers show what people believe, and that the time has come for us to have a new flag that serves as a unifying symbol for our entire state.”
Waller continued: “The Mississippi Legislature is poised to do the right thing this week, and we wholeheartedly support their efforts. As we seek to recover from crippling economic losses from COVID-19, we must show Mississippi is open for business to everyone – and no person should feel left out. Our state flag must be the flag for all of our people, and I cannot think of a better change for our state than to include the national motto ‘In God We Trust,’ which was also recently added to our state’s seal.”
MEC also launched an “It’s Time” campaign today to lend support with the efforts to change the flag, with a full-page ad placed in newspapers across the state. The campaign is supported by more than 100 business and industry leaders and includes full-page ads in newspapers across the state.
Separately, the Mississippi Association of Realtors on Wednesday issued a statement calling for lawmakers to change the state flag.
“The current Mississippi flag serves as an unnecessary hindrance to progress and growth,” the statement said, “and the Mississippi Realtors support swift legislative action to retire the current flag and replace it with a flag that reflects the enduring and remarkable qualities that make Mississippi a wonderful state to call home.”
Lawmakers in both the Senate and House have engaged in conversations about changing the state flag the past two weeks as protests about racial equality have continued across the state and nation. Tens of thousands of protesters in Mississippi have focused their demands around the state flag.
Late last week, as pressure to change the flag continued to grow, lawmakers discussed two options: adopting a second official state flag or letting Mississippi voters decide the fate of the current flag. In a 2001 referendum, 64% of voters voted to keep Mississippi’s current flag. Leaders who support changing the flag today fear a similar outcome would stall efforts to change the flag for years to come.
“I trust our leadership to pass this critical legislation at this important moment for our state,” said Mississippi Power President and CEO Anthony Wilson, who serves as Chairman of MEC. “They can take comfort in knowing that many Mississippians stand behind them. MEC not only represents the interests of Mississippi employers but also their employees. Our business members’ long-standing position to see the state flag changed not only reflects their desire to foster a more open business climate in our state but also reflects the overwhelming sentiment of thousands of their Mississippi employees as well.”
The Tarrance poll was conducted from June 16-18, with a sample size of 500 likely voters and a margin of error of 4.5%.
A poll conducted earlier this month by Mississippi-based Chism Strategies found 46% support for retaining the old flag compared to 44.9% who support changing it. In terms of polling, the outcome would essentially be considered a statistical tie. That poll indicated momentum for changing the flag was growing. In September 2017, when Chism polled on the same question, the result was 49% to 41% in favor of the old flag.