Mississippi’s new state flag flies for the first time at the Capitol after Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill on Monday ratifying the newly adopted state flag at the Two Mississippi Museums. Credit: Vickie King, Mississippi Today

A new state flag was raised over the Mississippi State Capitol on Monday to replace the old flag, which flew for 126 years and featured the divisive Confederate battle emblem.

Flags were raised on the Capitol grounds and over the domes of both the House and Senate in a Monday afternoon ceremony.

House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who this past summer steered passage of historic legislation to retire the old flag and to place a new flag on the November ballot, presided over the flag-raising ceremony.

Before the new flag was raised over the Capitol, where it flapped proudly thanks to the cold northwesterly wind, Gov. Tate Reeves signed the bill into law making the banner approved by voters in November the official flag of the state.

Reeves called it “a historic day, one we all can be proud of.” He cited the past year as one filled with isolation and divisive rhetoric, but that “we are one nation under God,” united in “friendship, trust and joy.” He said the new flag would represent those items that bound the state together.

He said for many the old flag represented history and heritage, but saw the old flag as representing “divisiveness, dismissiveness and even hate. That is not a firm foundation for our state.”

As lawmakers worked during the 2020 session to retire the old flag, Reeves opposed that effort. He maintained that voters, not lawmakers, should decide whether to retire the old flag. Still, Reeves reluctantly signed the bill into law last summer, retiring the flag and putting on a ballot a new flag for voters to approve or reject.

More than 70% of voters approved the new flag in November 2020, and the Legislature ratified that vote last week. Reeves signed the legislation into law in the auditorium of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, flanked by the commission that selected the new flag design.

Gunn, who for years was the most prominent Republican leader to publicly advocate for changing the state flag, told stories on Monday of state lawmakers who had been against change this summer – up until just days before the Legislature voted – but who had changes of heart.

“It was their families,” Gunn said of what changed their minds. “It was knowing that history was going to record what they did, and they did not want their spouses and children and grandchildren to be disappointed. They wanted future generations of this state to be proud of what they did.”

“Now we turn the page on this new chapter in our state’s history,” Gunn continued. “It is blank. It has yet to be written. What will it say? What will the history of this new flag be? What will it stand for? That is going to be determined by you, the citizens of the state of Mississippi.

“… It can represent a place of hospitality, a place of goodwill toward all men, a place of sacrificial service to our fellow man, or it can not. It can represent a place where we love our neighbors as ourselves, or it can not … It can represent a place where in God we trust, or it can not. We will determine what is written … Yes, in God we trust, and may he bless the great state of Mississippi.”

Hosemann, who publicly advocated for a change in the flag after House leaders initiated the process this summer, also spoke at the ceremony on Monday.

“Over 900,000 Mississippians voted for this flag to represent the state of Mississippi,” Hosemann said. “It will provide a shade of history and community for our citizens. It will provide nourishment to the roots of our society. It will inspire children for hopefully generations to come, and it will give us a sense of place. We will learn together under this flag. We will work together under this flag, and we will worship together under this emblem.”

State Sen. David Jordan of Greenwood, a longtime legislator and civil rights leader, watched the ceremony and the new flags being hoisted above the state Capitol and remarked to a colleague, “It’s a good day. It’s a beacon of hope for Mississippi.”

Sharon Brown, a resident of Jackson, braved the frigid weather Monday to witness the flag raising ceremony at the Capitol. Brown in 2015 led an unsuccessful push for a voter referendum to remove the old flag and prohibit any reference to the Confederacy being on the state’s flag.

“We have constantly been in the fight since then,” Brown said. “I knew change would come.”

Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who worked unsuccessfully in the early 2000s to change the flag, attended the bill signing and raising of the new flag.

When asked if he believed he would ever see the change, he said, “I was certainly hopeful it would be in my lifetime.”

He praised the new flag design as having “emblems and designs everyone can support… It is a great day.”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.