After 126 years, the Mississippi state flag will be changed in order to remove the Confederate symbol it is currently displaying.
In a state where 38 percent of the population is Black, Mississippi is the last state in the U.S. to feature a symbol that many view as racist.
The historic decision came on Sunday afternoon by Mississippi Lawmakers, who voted the bill in succession. CBN News reported that the vote in the Mississippi House was passed 91-23 and the vote in the Senate was 37-14 with bipartisan support.
Republican Governor Tate Reeves also expressed his support noting that he will sign the bill following the decision. An official date for the signing has yet to be determined.
Prior to the decision, amid civil unrest, calls to remove the Confederate symbol from the flag increased. Political, business, religious and sports groups also demonstrated support.
Earlier in June, thousands of people cheered as an organizer of a Black Lives Matter protest in front of Reeves' house urged Mississippi officials to part ways with all Confederate symbols.
As Christian Headlines previously reported, religious groups, such as the influential Mississippi Baptist Convention, also called for the removal of the Confederate symbol, calling it a “moral issue.”
Business groups also pointed to the controversial emblem for impeding the state’s economic development. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the U.S.
The biggest pushback, however, came from sports leagues who warned that the postseason events would not be hosted in the state. Mississippi is known for its vast sports culture.
Close to four dozen athletic directors and coaches from Mississippi’s university came to the Mississippi State Capitol asking for change.
“We need something that fulfills the purpose of being a state flag and that everybody in the state has a reason to be proud of,” said Mike Leach, football coach at Mississippi State University.
Mississippi has long faced debate over the Confederate symbol, which was first placed on the flag in 1894. Despite the outcome of the civil war, the symbol was reportedly favored by white people who wanted to express superiority over African Americans.
In 2000, the Mississippi Supreme Court discovered that the state had left out legislation regarding the flag when it updated its laws in 1906. In other words, the banner lacked official status.
Former Democrat governor Ronnie Musgrove had appointed a commission in 2000 concerning the status of the state flag. Statewide hearings were held that were often met with heated disputes over the flag.
After the hearings, legislators choose not to come up with a new flag design. Instead, they added the issue on a 2001 statewide ballot, in which Mississippi citizens voted in favor of keeping the flag. Alternatively, the Confederate symbol would have been replaced by a group of white stars representing Mississippi as the 20th state.
Many today still favor the Confederate emblem on the flag as a symbol of heritage. However, the rebel symbol had also been used prominently by the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.
Ultimately, its racial overtones are what led to its removal on Sunday, which was met with cheers and applause in the Senate. Lawmakers were seen hugging each other, including those opposing the decision. Bells in the state capital city were also rung following the announcement of the decision.
A new flag will be made with the words, “In God We Trust” and will no longer feature the Confederate symbol.
Voters will have the option to vote in the new design in the Nov. 3 election. If the decision is rejected, then voters will have to vote for a different design that will be sent by the commission later on.
Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn praised the decision as he has been calling for the controversial symbol to be removed from the flag for the last 5 years.
“How sweet it is to celebrate this on the Lord’s day,” Gunn said. “Many prayed to Him to bring us to this day. He has answered.”
Democratic state Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville also expressed praise over the decision, saying that Mississippi deserves a flag that will make everyone proud.
“Today is a history-making day in the state of Mississippi,” Simmons told colleagues before the decision was made. “Let’s vote today for the Mississippi of tomorrow.”
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.