LAWMAKERS in the US state of Mississippi have voted to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag in recognition of the ongoing drive towards removing all vestiges of racism from the country’s history.
Mississippi was one of the 11 southern states that seceded from the Union in 1860, carrying on all the affairs of a separate government and conducting a major war until defeated in the spring of 1865. Convinced that their way of life, based on slavery, was irretrievably threatened, the Confederacy tried to secede from the US but its attempt was unsuccessful as no other states recognised it until it was defeated after five years of war.
Despite the defeat, the Confederacy refused to accept multiculturalism, keeping many of the vestiges of slavery and introduced Jim Crow segregationist laws. it took the civil rights struggle of the 1960s led by the likes of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to get the segregationist Jim Crow laws abrogated in 1965.
Over the last month, there has, however, been a big drive towards ending racism and all its vestiges in the US following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, there has been a global campaign against racism. This has led to Mississippi legislators to remove the emblems associated with the segregationist Confederacy from their flag more than a century after losing the American Civil War.
After the successful vote at the Mississippi House of representatives and Senate in Jackson, the state capital, spectators cheered and applauded. Each chamber had broad bipartisan support for the historic decision and Republican governor Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill into law.
Once the bill is signed into law, the Mississippi state flag will lose its official status and this is expected to happen over the next few days. After the vote, legislators embraced each other, with even those on the opposite side of the issue also hugging as an emotional day of debate drew to a close.
Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the November 3 election but if they reject it, a commission will set a different design using the same guidelines, which would be sent to voters later. Mississippi has a 38% black population and the last state flag that incorporates the emblem is widely seen as racist and offensive to them.
Republican House speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, has pushed for five years to change the flag, saying that the Confederate symbol is offensive. Yesterday, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed the bill by 91-23 Sunday afternoon and within hours, the Senate followed suit with a 37-14 vote.
Mr Gunn said: “How sweet it is to celebrate this on the Lord’s day. Many prayed to Him to bring us to this day and he has answered.”
At a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Mississippi governor’s Mansion in early June, thousands cheered as an organiser said the state needs to divorce itself from all Confederate symbols. Religious groups, including the large and influential Mississippi Baptist Convention, said erasing the rebel emblem from the state flag is a moral imperative.