Sunday July 12th, 2020 1:38AM

With a pen stroke, Mississippi drops Confederate-themed flag

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — With a stroke of the governor’s pen, Mississippi is retiring the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem — a symbol that’s widely condemned as racist.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed the historic bill Tuesday at the Governor's Mansion, immediately removing official status for the 126-year-old banner that has been a source of division for generations.

“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," Reeves said on live TV just before the signing. “We are a resilient people defined by our hospitality. We are a people of great faith. Now, more than ever, we must lean on that faith, put our divisions behind us, and unite for a greater good.”

Mississippi has faced increasing pressure to change its flag since protests against racial injustice have focused attention on Confederate symbols in recent weeks.

A broad coalition of legislators on Sunday passed the landmark legislation to change the flag, capping a weekend of emotional debate and decades of effort by Black lawmakers and others who see the rebel emblem as a symbol of hatred.

Among the small group of dignitaries witnessing the bill signing were Reuben Anderson, who was the first African American justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, serving from 1985 to 1991; Willie Simmons, a current state Transportation Commissioner who is the first African American elected to that job; and Reena Evers-Everette, daughter of civil rights icons Medgar and Myrlie Evers.

Medgar Evers, a Mississippi NAACP leader, was assassinated in the family's driveway in 1963. Myrlie Evers was national chairwoman of the NAACP in the mid-1990s and is still living.

“That Confederate symbol is not who Mississippi is now. It’s not what it was in 1894, either, inclusive of all Mississippians,” Evers-Everette said after the ceremony. "But now we’re going to a place of total inclusion and unity with our hearts along with our thoughts and in our actions.”

Reeves used several pens to sign the bill. As he completed the process, a cheer could be heard from people outside the Governor's Mansion who were watching the livestream broadcast on their phones. Reeves handed the pens to lawmakers and others who had worked on the issue.

The Confederate battle emblem has a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. White supremacist legislators put it on the upper-left corner of the Mississippi flag in 1894, as white people were squelching political power that African Americans had gained after the Civil War.

Critics have said for generations that it’s wrong for a state where 38% of the people are Black to have a flag marked by the Confederacy, particularly since the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have used the symbol to promote racist agendas.

Mississippi voters chose to keep the flag in a 2001 statewide election, with supporters saying they saw it as a symbol of Southern heritage. But since then, a growing number of cities and all the state’s public universities have abandoned it.

Several Black legislators, and a few white ones, kept pushing for years to change it. After a white gunman who had posed with the Confederate flag killed Black worshipers at a South Carolina church in 2015, Mississippi’s Republican speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, said his religious faith compelled him to say that Mississippi must purge the symbol from its flag.

The issue was still broadly considered too volatile for legislators to touch, until the police custody death of an African American man in Minneapolis, George Floyd, set off weeks of sustained protests against racial injustice, followed by calls to take down Confederate symbols.

A groundswell of young activists, college athletes and leaders from business, religion, education and sports called on Mississippi to make this change, finally providing the momentum for legislators to vote.

Before the bill signing Tuesday, state employees raised and lowered several of the flags on a pole outside the Capitol. The secretary of state's office sells flags for $20 each, and a spokeswoman said there has been a recent increase in requests.

During recent news conferences, Reeves refused to say whether he thought the Confederate-themed flag properly represents present-day Mississippi, sticking to a position he ran on last year, when he promised that if the flag design was going to be reconsidered, it would be done in another statewide election.

Now, a commission will design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve it in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will draft a different design using the same guidelines, to be sent to voters later.

Reeves said before signing over the flag's demise, “We are all Mississippians and we must all come together. What better way to do that than include ‘In God We Trust’ on our new state banner."

He added: “The people of Mississippi, black and white, and young and old, can be proud of a banner that puts our faith front and center. We can unite under it. We can move forward — together."


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter:

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Sunbelt states rush to line up hospital beds, not barstools
Florida and other states across the Sunbelt are thinning out the deck chairs, turning over the barstools and rushing to line up more hospital beds as they head into the height of the summer season amid a startling surge in confirmed cases of the coronavirus
6:22PM ( 34 minutes ago )
McGrath wins Kentucky Dem primary; McConnell showdown awaits
Former Marine pilot Amy McGrath has overcome a bumpier-than-expected Kentucky primary to win the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination
6:19PM ( 37 minutes ago )
With a pen stroke, Mississippi drops Confederate-themed flag
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has signed a landmark bill that retires the last state flag bearing the Confederate battle emblem
6:14PM ( 42 minutes ago )
U.S. News
Carl Reiner, beloved creator of 'Dick Van Dyke Show,' dies
Carl Reiner, the ingenious and versatile comedy writer, actor and director, has died
6:20PM ( 36 minutes ago )
Report shows $480,000 in donations to cover Pence legal aid
Donors contributed nearly $480,000 to cover Vice President Mike Pence’s legal expenses from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections
6:17PM ( 39 minutes ago )
Shohei Ohtani returns to 2-way role with Angels this season
Shohei Ohtani will resume his two-way career with the Los Angeles Angels when baseball returns
6:04PM ( 52 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
St. Louis mayor blasted for revealing identity of protesters
The mayor of St. Louis is being pressed to resign after she publicly revealed the names and addresses of anti-police protesters
5:28PM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump faces pressure over Russia bounties to kill US troops
President Donald Trump is coming under growing pressure from lawmakers to respond to allegations that Russia offered bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan
5:26PM ( 1 hour ago )
Republicans, with exception of Trump, now push mask-wearing
In Republican circles -- with the notable exception of the man who leads the party -- the debate about masks is over: It’s time to put one on
5:24PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Judge temporarily blocks tell-all book by Trump's niece
A New York state judge has temporarily blocked publication of a tell-all book by President Donald Trump's niece after the president's brother sued to stop it
3:35PM ( 3 hours ago )
No smoking, drinking or eating as Atlantic City casinos open
Gamblers coming back to Atlantic City casinos this week will find a different world: no smoking, drinking or eating inside
3:35PM ( 3 hours ago )
Police say missing kids' mom helped keep their bodies hidden
Prosecutors say the mother of two children who were found dead in rural Idaho months after they vanished had conspired with her new husband to hide or destroy the kids’ bodies
3:19PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Pope urges US Catholic media to work to overcome racism
Pope Francis is urging Catholic media in the U.S. to work to overcome “the diseases of racism and injustice" in his latest comments about anti-racism protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd
3:25PM ( 3 hours ago )
NYC budget vote looms as protests push for $1B cut to police
New York City lawmakers are set to vote on a high-stakes budget as activists demand a $1 billion shift from policing to social services and the city grapples with multibillion-dollar losses because of the coronavirus pandemic
2:15PM ( 4 hours ago )
From Powerball winner to scandal: Jack Whittaker dies at 72
Andrew “Jack” Whittaker Jr., whose life became rife with setbacks and tragedy after winning a record $315 million Powerball jackpot in 2002, has died
1:17PM ( 5 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Supreme Court lifts ban on state aid to religious schooling
The Supreme Court has ruled that states can’t cut religious schools out of programs that send public money to private education
1:10PM ( 5 hours ago )
Belgian city removes bust of Congo colonizer Leopold II
A bust of former Belgian King Leopold II was taken off public display in the city of Ghent on Tuesday as Belgium marked the 60th anniversary of the end of its colonial rule in Congo
12:13PM ( 6 hours ago )
'A dark past': MVPs say time to pull Landis name off plaques
As monuments, statues and memorials around the world come under increased scrutiny, some former Most Valuable Players in Major League Baseball are saying they'd like to see a change in future MVP plaques
12:08PM ( 6 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Biden: Trump has failed at home on virus, abroad with Putin
Joe Biden is taking aim at Donald Trump’s fitness for the Oval Office, suggesting the Republican president has abdicated his duty to protect U.S. troops facing Russian threats abroad and American citizens facing a pandemic and economic calamity at home
5:26PM ( 1 hour ago )
Biden team putting together list of Black female court picks
Joe Biden says his team is putting together a list of potential options for his first Supreme Court nominee, which he has already pledged will be a Black woman
3:22PM ( 3 hours ago )
Mnuchin says hardest-hit businesses should be next aid focus
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has told Congress that the administration wants the next round of economic aid to focus on supporting businesses like restaurants that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis
3:19PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Stocks are off to a tentative start as traders turn cautious
Stocks are off to a tentative start Tuesday as traders turn cautious following a runup the day before
9:44AM ( 9 hours ago )
Careers hang on mail-in ballots for 2 House Democrats
New York Democrats Eliot Engel and Carolyn Maloney both must wait for mail-in ballots to be counted to learn whether they will serve another term in the U.S. House
9:31AM ( 9 hours ago )
Vatican prosecutors seize data from St. Peter's Basilica
Vatican prosecutors have ordered the seizure of documents and computers from the administrative offices of St. Peter’s Basilica in an apparently new investigation into financial irregularities in the Holy See
7:47AM ( 11 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Sunbelt states rush to line up hospital beds, not barstools
Florida and other states across the Sunbelt are thinning out the deck chairs, turning over the barstools and rushing to line up more hospital beds as they head into the height of the summer season amid a startling surge in confirmed cases of the coronavirus
6:22PM ( 35 minutes ago )
McGrath wins Kentucky Dem primary; McConnell showdown awaits
Former Marine pilot Amy McGrath has overcome a bumpier-than-expected Kentucky primary to win the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination
6:19PM ( 37 minutes ago )
High court sparks new battle over church-state separation
Religious freedom advocates are pleased and some secular groups alarmed following a Supreme Court ruling that states must give religious schools the same access to public funding that other private schools receive
6:07PM ( 49 minutes ago )
1 of 2 Oklahoma officers shot during traffic stop dies
The police chief in Tulsa, Oklahoma, says one of the two officers who were shot during a traffic stop has died
5:52PM ( 1 hour ago )
New Mexico tribe transforms old casino into movie studio
A northern New Mexico Native American tribe is opening a movie studio it hopes will attract big productions
5:44PM ( 1 hour ago )