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Mississippi says goodbye to Confederate emblem and adopts a new state flag

The state’s new flag features a large magnolia and pays homage to Mississippi’s Native American history.

The Mississippi state flag hangs in the US Capitol on June 24, 2015.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Mississippians have voted in favor of the ballot initiative Measure 3 and will replace their controversial state flag with a new one, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press.

The new flag, named the “In God We Trust” flag, will put to rest a decades-long debate over the flag that the state used for 126 years, which features a Confederate emblem.

The new design was commissioned and approved by the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag, set up by the state legislature after the body voted to do away with the old flag. It prominently features a magnolia flower — the state flower — encircled by 20 white stars, a nod to Mississippi’s status as the 20th state to join the US. A larger yellow star sits directly above the flower to represent the Choctaw origins of the state, and all the icons sit on a dark blue and red striped background. The design was selected from just under 3,000 other submissions.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill to remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag in early July after years of local and national pressure from sports groups and advocacy organizations that argued the flag was racist relic of hatred, slavery, and oppression.

The pressure grew as social justice protests following the police killing of George Floyd forced the country to reckon with the impact of systemic racism and injustice on Black communities. Confederate statues were under siege, so too was the flag.

The Mississippi legislature responded with a historic vote to remove the flag, which was adopted during the Reconstruction era, and after Reeves signed it into law, the banner was swiftly removed from state buildings.

The decision had its critics, who argued lawmakers were attempting to erase an important part of the state’s history and tradition. But the ballot initiative’s success shows that these dissenting voices belonged to a minority and is also evidence of how quickly attitudes toward Confederate iconography have changed throughout the state.

In 2001, only 19 years ago, voters overwhelmingly decided to keep the old flag in a statewide referendum. But the flag came under fire in 2015 after a white nationalist who aligned himself with it murdered nine Black worshippers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. That year, students at the University of Mississippi mobilized and pushed the school to stop flying the banner on campus.

That Mississippi finally voted to move forward with a flag that better represents the diversity of its residents speaks volumes, though some experts have been quick to point out that Mississippi still has a long way to go in rectifying the ills of the past, noting that the state remains one of the country’s most segregated.

In signing the bill this year, Reeves said, “This is not a political moment to me, but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together to be reconciled and to move on. We must understand that all who want change are not attempting to erase history and all who want the status quo are not mean spirited or hateful. ... I also understand the need to commit the 1894 flag to history and find a banner that is a better emblem for all Mississippi.”