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.
TIMELINE: How Mississippi lawmakers removed the state flag.
READ MORE: Mississippi furls state flag with Confederate emblem after 126 years.
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.