(TMU) – Lawmakers in the Southern U.S. state of Mississippi took major steps over the weekend toward removing the Confederate emblem from its official state flag.
Both chambers of the Republican-held state congress voted on Saturday to begin the process of changing the flag.
Mississippi is the last state in the country that features the Confederate battle emblem on its flag, which is widely seen as a symbol of slavery and white supremacy.
As the United States continues to be gripped by months of social upheaval and protests for racial justice and an end to police brutality, debate has been reignited over the use of the flag, which was used by the slave-owning states that were defeated in the U.S. Civil War of 1861-65.
The flag has flown over the State Capital for over a century as a symbol of the state’s Confederate past, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle appear ready to let it finally become retired to history
The vote passed by a wide margin in both chambers of the Mississippi legislature, with the House of Representatives approving the change by a margin of 84-35 and the Senate approving it by 36-14, reports AP. Cheers and applause greeted the vote as spectators hailed the move by lawmakers.
A bill to change the state flag will now be formally introduced and is expected to be proposed on Sunday. The fact that the two-thirds majority necessary to begin the process managed to pass is a clear sign that the flag’s days could be done, as a simple majority is all that’s required to pass the final bill.
Republican Governor Tate Reeves has stated unequivocally that he plans to sign any bill approved in congress. Reeves had previously refrained from backing a bill while also stating that he wouldn’t veto one.
“The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it,” Reeves wrote on Twitter.
“We should not be under any illusion that a vote in the Capitol is the end of what must be done – the job before us is to bring the state together,” he added.
Some residents have suggested the state adopt a new flag with a magnolia, honoring both the state tree and the state flower.
“We don’t want anything flying over them, lofty, exalting itself, that grabs onto a deadly past,” said Karen Holt of Edwards, Mississippi, who described the proposed new flag as representing the “joy of being a citizen of the United States,” unlike the so-called rebel flag.
The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag. The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it.
If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it. pic.twitter.com/bf3vyzuObt
— Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) June 27, 2020
Symbols of the Confederacy such as the battle flag and monuments to Southern slave-owners and military leaders have increasingly come under fire in the past several years as embodiments of white supremacy and anti-Black bigotry, with crowds targeting statues for toppling and defacing or lobbying authorities for their removal from public squares and government facilities.
“I know there are many good people who … believe that this flag is a symbol of our Southern pride and heritage,” said Rep. Jason White, the Republican speaker pro tempore of the House. “But for most people throughout our nation and the world, they see that flag and think that it stands for hatred and oppression.”
Only 11 states formed the Confederacy, which attempted to secede from the United States in February 1861. However, some 1,880 Confederate monuments have been erected across 31 states as well as the nation’s capital since 1880, reports Washington Post – with many of the monuments being built during the 1950s and ‘60s by white supremacist groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans just as struggles for racial equality and civil rights were picking up steam.
For decades following the Confederacy’s 1865 defeat, a nostalgic myth about the so-called “Lost Cause” — noble Southern “rebels” rising up despite the odds to defend their way of life from Northern “Yankees” — proliferated across the U.S. South, primarily among white residents.
Believers and propagandists of the “Lost Cause” largely shrugged off or downplayed claims of historic racism, instead reframing the Civil War as a constitutional clash over state’s rights rather than a fight to preserve institutions of slavery. Lost Cause proponents also depicted the aftermath of the war as a tragedy for once-prosperous whites in the south and even for Black people, who were alleged to have benefited from the livelihoods allegedly provided by their former plantation masters.
This revisionist history also involved false claims of white victimization at the hands of Jewish northern “carpetbaggers” and vengeful Black ex-slaves as well as their supposed “malcontent” children during the era of Reconstruction. These ideological claims laid the basis for the rise of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, as well as Jim Crow segregation laws that systematized the continued discrimination against and exclusion of Black people in the South.
Following the May 25 killing of unarmed 46-year-old Black man George Floyd by Minneapolis police and subsequent weeks of protests, many feel that the time has come to turn the page on the most overt symbols of systematic racism in American society.
“I would never have thought that I would see the flag come down in my lifetime,” said Democratic Sen. Barbara Blackmon, who is Black.