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The flag, approved by a majority of voters, features the words “In God We Trust” instead of the divisive Confederate battle emblem that previously flew for 126 years.
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 left ratification of a replacement flag up to voters, who had the option of voting “yes” or “no” on adopting the new design. Had a majority of Mississippians rejected the new design on Tuesday, the commission would have gone back to the drawing board and presented a new design to voters.
Several Black lawmakers and activists worked for decades to change the state flag. A coalition of white and Black legislators ushered the change through the Capitol this summer.
Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn has been a leading advocate of removing the old flag and was the first prominent state Republican leader to push for change.
“While the rest of the world seems to be dividing over protests and political agendas, Mississippians are setting an example with the ‘In God We Trust’ flag by pointing the rest of the world to the answer to all of our problems: in God we trust,” Gunn said recently.
The new flag has a magnolia — the official state tree and flower — blossom on a blue background surrounded by stars with gold and red vertical stripes on the ends. It has one prominent star made of diamonds, representing Native Americans who first inhabited the area, and a ring of smaller stars denoting Mississippi becoming the 20th state in 1817.
The Legislature, when it voted to remove the old flag, stipulated in law that whatever design is put before voters, it must have the words “In God We Trust” on it, and that it could not have the Confederate emblem.
One group, Let Mississippi Vote, hopes to overturn the Legislature’s removal of the old flag. It plans to mount 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. The group said it intended to have people at polls on Tuesday collecting names and information for its drive.
In a 2001 referendum, 64% of Mississippi voters voted to keep the 1894 flag, and some were angered that the Legislature this year removed it without putting it before a popular vote.