Three of the five local legislators were among those who casted yes votes needed to retire the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem.
The historic vote happened more than a century after white supremacist legislators adopted the Mississippi state flag design a generation after the South lost the Civil War.
A broad coalition of lawmakers – Black and white, Democrat and Republican – voted Sunday for change as the state faced increasing pressure amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.
Rep. Nick Bain (R-Corinth), Sen. Rita Potts Parks (R-Corinth) and Rep. Jody Steverson (R-Ripley) casted yes votes on the measure that includes the retirement of the current flag.
The bill will setup a commission to design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will set a different design using the same guidelines, and that would be sent to voters later.
Parks was one of the many legislators who changed her stance on the issue over the past week.
“Whether (the) decision is made by the people of Mississippi or me, we must begin to think about the impact and long term effects of this decision,” she said. “America will no longer be distracted by the flag, but rather will see us the way we see each other and the love we have for our great state.”
Voting against the bill included Rep. Lester “Bubba” Carpenter (R-Burnsville) and Rep. Tracy Arnold (R-Booneville).
Arnold said he would not vote to change the flag without allowing the voters to have a voice. On June 22, he said, “If there are enough people who want to change the flag, the constitution allows them to have a petition ... if they get enough percentage ... they can put that on the ballot themselves.”
Carpenter tried to add an amendment in the House before the vote that would have allowed Mississippians to vote on the question of changing the current design.
He said the amendment would show he did what he promised.
“I have stood by my word that I would try with all my power to provide (people) with the right to vote on this important issue,” added Carpenter.
The Senate voted 37-14 to retire the flag, hours after the House voted 91-23.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to sign the bill into law in the next few days.
Steverson said the current flag “doesn’t unite all the people of Mississippi but divides us.”
He also changed his stance on the issue late last week. He said he heard from many people in his district who wanted to keep the current flag, but he voted for the change.
“I want all Mississippi children to grow up in a state not clinging to its divisive history, but focused on a more united future,” Steverson added.
For Bain, changing the flag means making Alcorn County and Mississippi a better place.
“Whenever my time in public service is complete, I want my children to look back and be proud of what I’ve done,” he said. “A vote to keep the flag does not accomplish this goal.”
Legislators put the Confederate emblem on the upper left corner of Mississippi flag in 1894, as white people were squelching political power that African Americans had gained after the Civil War.
In a 2001 statewide election, voters chose to keep the flag. An increasing number of cities and all Mississippi’s public universities have taken down the state flag in recent years. But until now, efforts to redesign the flag sputtered in the Republican-dominated Legislature.
That dynamic shifted as an extraordinary and diverse coalition of political, business, religious groups and sports leaders pushed for change.
Religious groups said erasing the rebel emblem from the state flag is a moral imperative. Notable among them was the state’s largest church group, the 500,000-member Mississippi Baptist Convention, which called for change last week after not pushing for it before the 2001 election.
Business groups said the banner hinders economic development in one of the poorest states in the nation.
The biggest blow might have happened when college sports leagues said Mississippi could lose postseason events if it continued flying the Confederate-themed flag. Nearly four dozen of Mississippi’s university athletic directors and coaches came to the Capitol to lobby for change.
Many people who wanted to keep the emblem on the Mississippi flag said they see it as a symbol of heritage.
The battle emblem is a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. The Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have waved the rebel flag for decades.
The Mississippi Supreme Court found in 2000 that when the state updated its laws in 1906, portions dealing with the flag were not included. That meant the banner lacked official status. The Democratic governor in 2000, Ronnie Musgrove, appointed a commission to decide the flag’s future. It held hearings across the state that grew ugly as people shouted at each other about the flag.
Legislators then opted not to set a flag design themselves, and put the issue on the 2001 statewide ballot.
Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, who is now 97, served on then-President Bill Clinton’s national advisory board on race in the 1990s and was chairman of the Mississippi flag commission in 2000. Winter said Sunday that removing the Confederate symbol from the banner is “long overdue.”