Lawmakers voted to remove the Mississippi state flag Sunday, and Gov. Tate Reeves signed the bill Tuesday to retire the controversial banner that was adopted 126 years ago.
The House approved the bill 92-23, and the Senate voted 37-14 Sunday, after a getting a key two-thirds majority Saturday to take up the bill after the normal deadlines.
All state flags on government property must come down within 15 days, starting Tuesday. Mississippi’s flag was the only one in the United States to still have the Confederate battle emblem as part of it.
However, representatives of Marion County said they believed the public deserved a right to vote on the flag issue themselves, much like the 2001 referendum that saw Mississippi vote nearly 2-to-1 in support of keeping it.
State Rep. Ken Morgan, R-Morgantown, said he absolutely believes the decision should have been made by the people of Mississippi and not the Legislature. He said regardless of the outcome of the vote, people deserved to have to a say.
“The taxpayers of Mississippi pay for all of us to sit up here on salary and send us here for them, and some of them didn’t do it,” he said. “I voted no, no, no. The only thing I voted for was an amendment to give the people the right to vote on it. The rest of it was no all the way across because it wasn’t treating folks right.”
Bill Pigott, R-Tylertown, said he expressed his opinion with his vote, and that was that his people asked for the right to vote on it.
“My job is to honor the requests of my district,” he said. “It’s apparent from the texts, calls and emails from my district that they wanted the right to vote on it. Most of them said whether it failed or not, they would’ve been satisfied because they just wanted the right to vote.”
The Rev. Darrick McGowan, president of the Marion County chapter of the NAACP, said he was certainly happy with the result of the vote. He said he was actually with a group of other ministers who went to the Capitol on Saturday.
“It was past time that we get beyond that. I know for some they say it represents their heritage, but for many of us others it represents a heritage of hate,” he said. “We need to move to a flag that is more uniting for all of the constituents, for all of the people and that will allow this state to move forward.”
McGowan said the vote is one of the best things to happen in Mississippi in the past decade, though, and that it was time the state got something right.
“Mississippi has been last in everything that’s positive and first in everything that’s negative. That’s something that it’s in the good column now,” he said.
But for local legislators, it’s not as much about whether the flag is changed or not but how it was handled.
“We knew it was going to come sooner or later, but the way it had been put to the general public was that it would be voted on,” Morgan said. “So many people said it would be voted on by the people whether it would be retired or not. That’s not the way it turned out.”
Morgan said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, both Republicans, were adamant in leading the cause.
“They took it upon themselves to press the issue with all that’s going on with the NCAA and everything to take a vote on it and leave the public out of it,” he said. “The new flag, whatever it may be, certainly won’t be anything compared to the old one and won’t have the Southern cross in it for sure.”
Citizen Roger Smith said he believes it should’ve been voted on by the people because it’s the people’s flag. However, he doesn’t believe the flag is the issue.
“The issue is a continuation of power struggle, and there’s a certain element of our society that is reaching for any item that they can get to achieve power. I don’t think it’s the flag,” he said. “I don’t think anybody who understands the historical significance, the true significance of what they’re protesting against — the Confederate emblem in the corner — but what that was established on was not racist. It was not established on race. It had Christian principles. The people that are rebelling are just looking for something to rebel against. It’s not about race; it’s about power.”
Doyel Youngblood, who is 82 years old and black, said removing the flag isn’t going to change anything. He said what is going to cause change is people getting hate and jealousy out of their hearts.
“That flag doesn’t mean anything. If you don’t represent God, you lost it all,” he said.
Citizen James Pittman said he’s happy with the vote and that it’s a great move forward.
“There’s a lot of people who say it doesn’t symbolize hatred, but history shows that it does,” he said. “If Mississippi wants to move forward, we have to get rid of it. It’s a step toward change.”
Morgan added that he serves 25,000 people, and he said the majority of the people in his district oppose changing the flag. He explained that people broke into the system and got a hold of the voter roll at the secretary of state’s office recently to put out the message that he was for changing the flag, which never came from him.
“They actually did me a favor because a lot of my constituents responded by calling my office number at the capitol and my secretary was taking messages, and it was 10-to-1 with people asking for the right to vote on the flag,” he said. “Some were saying they didn’t want to change the flag. I had one slip that said ‘We appreciate you changing the state flag.’ But it was 10-to-1.”
The future of Mississippi is brighter in McGowan’s eyes because he said for years major corporations and organizations like the NCAA, SEC and Conference USA didn’t want to be associated with the state because of the flag.
“It will make Mississippi a more inviting place. We’re known as the hospitality state, but when you promote hospitality in words but not in actions and looking at that flag, that’s not promoting hospitality,” he said. “We’ve lost billions of dollars simply for having that flag, and that’s one of the reasons it finally was removed.”
Pittman added that he was glad lawmakers took it upon themselves to incite change.
McGowan said the only thing he wasn’t pleased with was that Marion County’s delegation voted against the bill.
He added he’s looking forward to working with the commission that will meet until September to come up with a design for a more unifying flag that will be voted on by the public Nov. 3.