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Until yesterday, Mississippi was the last US state whose flag still incorporated the Confederate battle banner — a blue saltire dotted with 13 white stars, representing the 11 states of the Confederacy plus Missouri and Kentucky, and a known emblem of white supremacist groups. After flying for 126 years, the flag has been officially retired and will be housed at the two Mississippi Museums: the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
On Sunday, June 28, the House and Senate passed a bill to immediately remove the state flag in a respective 91-23 and a 37-14 vote. It was signed into law by Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves two days later. In a ceremony on Tuesday, the three former state flags were raised over the Capitol grounds in Jackson one final time. (Mississippi residents are still permitted to fly the former state flag on their personal residence or vehicles.) House Speaker Philip Gunn; Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann; and Archives and History Director Katie Blount then handed them to former Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson, president of the board of directors for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
“This is the thrill of my lifetime to accept these flags,” said Anderson, the first African American Supreme Court Justice in Mississippi. He added that the flag “is an artifact and that’s where it should be, in the history museum.”
Last month, a group of bipartisan lawmakers met privately to draft legislation to change the flag after increasing pressure from activists in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests. A coalition known as A New Flag For MS penned an open letter requesting its removal, gathering signatures from community leaders including the executive director of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute and the director of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission. Further influence came from college athletic groups, which refused to hold championship events in the state until the flag was retired.
Debates over the contentious flag and its association with racist hate symbols are not new, but were amplified this year in the midst of protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other Black individuals murdered by white police or racist vigilantes. Mississippi had included a referendum on a special election ballot that presented two potential flag alternatives in 2001, but more than two thirds of voters chose to retain the traditional design.
A nine-person commission will be appointed to come up with a new design by September. The flag must exclude the Confederate battle banner and include the phrase “In God we trust,” and will be voted on by Mississippians in the November 2020 ballot.
The Mississippi museums plan to mount an exhibit about the former flag.