Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed a bill to change the state flag on Tuesday, effectively ending the most prominent display of the Confederate battle emblem in the country.
Mississippi’s state flag has sparked controversy for decades for prominently displaying the Confederate symbol, which has long been associated with America’s racist history. Backlash against the flag and other tributes to the Confederacy has grown in recent weeks as people protest racial injustice and police brutality across the country.
Reeves, a Republican, addressed critics of the flag’s removal and their fears that doing so would erase state history.
“This is not a political moment to me but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together and move on,” Reeves said Tuesday while signing the bill. “A flag is a symbol of our past, our present and our future. For those reasons, we need a new symbol.”
“Whether you are proud of this step or angry with us over the process, I want you to know that I love you,” he continued.
Mississippi’s House and Senate voted on Sunday to officially retire the flag. It’s unclear what the new flag will look like, and the design will be chosen at a later time. But the legislature said the replacement may not include the Confederate symbol and must use the phrase “In God We Trust.” Voters will choose the new flag in November.
Reeves had long resisted speaking about the divisiveness of the flag, often pointing to a 2001 referendum in which nearly two-thirds of voters upheld it as the state emblem, the Clarion-Ledger notes. Local lawmakers’ various efforts to bar the Confederate symbol had failed over the years.
But the debate changed dramatically following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis police at the end of May.
“I know there are people of goodwill who are not happy to see this flag change,” Reeves said Tuesday. “They fear a chain reaction of events erasing our history — a history that is no doubt complicated and imperfect. … I also understand the need to commit the 1894 flag to history, and find a banner that is a better emblem for all Mississippi.”
The Confederate flag has been removed or barred from institutions around the country in recent weeks. The U.S. Marine Corps and Navy banned the public display of the flag at their installations earlier this month, and NASCAR, a sport popular with a largely white, Southern audience, did the same.