Mississippi gov might not block change to rebel-themed flag

  • In this April 25, 2020 photograph, a small Mississippi state flag is held by a participant during a drive-by "re-open Mississippi" protest past the Governor's Mansion, in the background, in Jackson, Miss. This current flag has in the canton portion of the banner the design of the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag, that has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement.

    In this April 25, 2020 photograph, a small Mississippi state flag is held by a participant during a drive-by "re-open Mississippi" protest past the Governor's Mansion, in the background, in Jackson, Miss. This current flag has in the canton portion of the banner the design of the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag, that has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement. Associated Press

  • Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves speaks about his executive order relaxing restrictions on nightclubs and bars during the daily COVID-19 news update in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, June 10, 2020.

    Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves speaks about his executive order relaxing restrictions on nightclubs and bars during the daily COVID-19 news update in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Associated Press

  • Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann asks State Economist Darrin Webb a question during a meeting of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Monday, June 15, 2020. Lawmakers were provided an updated report on state revenue.

    Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann asks State Economist Darrin Webb a question during a meeting of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Monday, June 15, 2020. Lawmakers were provided an updated report on state revenue. Associated Press

  • Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, Democratic leader of the House and flanked by party lawmakers and members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, stands at the podium as he says the state flag does not unify Mississippi, and calls on the Legislature to vote for a new flag this session, during a news conference in front of the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, June 23, 2020.

    Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, Democratic leader of the House and flanked by party lawmakers and members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, stands at the podium as he says the state flag does not unify Mississippi, and calls on the Legislature to vote for a new flag this session, during a news conference in front of the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Associated Press

  • Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch discusses the importance of establishing a Task Force on State Cybersecurity during a governor's news conference, Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss.

    Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch discusses the importance of establishing a Task Force on State Cybersecurity during a governor's news conference, Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. Associated Press

  • Sen. Robert Jackson, D-Marks, sports a hand written message on his face mask of "take it down," referencing the need to replace the current Mississippi flag which has in the canton portion of the banner the design of the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag, that has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement, following a news conference by Democratic lawmakers and members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus at the Capitol, Tuesday, June 23, 2020, in Jackson, Miss.

    Sen. Robert Jackson, D-Marks, sports a hand written message on his face mask of "take it down," referencing the need to replace the current Mississippi flag which has in the canton portion of the banner the design of the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag, that has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement, following a news conference by Democratic lawmakers and members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus at the Capitol, Tuesday, June 23, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/24/2020 8:12 PM

JACKSON, Miss. -- Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday, for the first time, that he probably would not stand in the way if legislators muster a large enough majority to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.

Amid the backdrop of national protests over racial injustice, Mississippi is under increasing pressure from business and religious leaders, sports leagues and others to divorce itself from a symbol that many see as racist. It is the last state to include the emblem in its flag.

 

The state's annual legislative session is almost over, and it takes a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate to consider a bill after the normal deadlines have passed.

'If they get those votes, a veto would be pointless,' Reeves wrote on Facebook. 'The debate would be over, and the flag would change.'

Reeves still said, though, that he prefers having a statewide election to let voters choose a flag design.

The governor's statement came hours after two of Mississippi's other Republican officials proposed replacing Confederate emblem with the words 'In God We Trust."

The Confederate battle emblem has a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. White supremacists in the Mississippi Legislature put it on the state flag in 1894 as backlash for the political power African Americans gained during Reconstruction after the Civil War.

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Mississippi voters chose to keep the flag in a 2001 statewide election, but the design has remained contentious. Elsewhere in the country, debate has sharpened as Confederate monuments and statues recalling past slavery have been toppled by protesters or deliberately removed by authorities amid a groundswell against racial inequities.

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said a new flag would help future generations.

'In my mind, our flag should bear the Seal of the Great State of Mississippi and state 'In God We Trust,'' Hosemann said. ' I am open to bringing all citizens together to determine a banner for our future.'

Attorney General Lynn Fitch said putting the religious phrase on the flag would 'reflect the love, compassion and conviction of our people.'

Legislative Black Caucus members say lawmakers should remove the Confederate emblem because another statewide flag vote would be bitter.

'The emotional distress that the current flag perpetuates on people of color extends throughout the United States, casting us and having people to claim that we are backwater and retrograde,' said the caucus chairwoman, Democratic Sen. Angela Turner Ford of West Point.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Another Republican statewide elected official, Auditor Shad White, said Mississippi needs a flag 'that is more unifying than the one we have now.'

'If there were a vote to remove the Confederate imagery from our flag, I would vote to remove it,' White said Wednesday.

Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville is among those saying Mississippi should keep its flag and people should resist efforts to remove historical monuments.

'Whether you acknowledge it or not, the American Left is waging war against us,' McDaniel said Tuesday on Facebook. 'They consider the founding to be illegitimate, our history to be tainted, and our republic as inherently evil.'

In a newspaper ad funded by the state chamber of commerce, dozens of business executives said Wednesday that the Confederate battle emblem needs to be removed from Mississippi's flag because it 'perpetuates negative stereotypes of our state.'

The chamber, called the Mississippi Economic Council, said for years that Mississippi should change its flag. The group said a new flag without Confederate images would boost economic opportunities.

'The current flag is harmful to Mississippi's image and reputation for those outside our state and is hurtful to many Mississippians,' the group said in the ad.

At a Black Lives Matter rally June 6 in Jackson, thousands of people cheered when an organizer said Mississippi should get rid of Confederate images.

All eight of Mississippi's public universities stopped flying the state flag years ago because of the Confederate symbol. The universities' leaders were at the Capitol on Wednesday trying to build support for a legislative vote on changing the flag.

'We know this symbol is holding us back in the eyes of citizens all across this nation,' said Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum. 'And citizens around the globe view that symbol as a symbol of hatred and racism.'

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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