Mississippi passes bill to change its state flag

COMING DOWN: The Mississippi state flag, which features the Confederate flag, hangs as protestors gathered for a sit in, demanding its removal during a protest at the 2016 Democratic National Convention on July 25, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images/Tribune News Service

BILOXI, Miss. — The Mississippi Senate joined the House on Sunday in a historic vote to take down the 1894 state flag with its Confederate battle emblem and ask Mississippi voters to approve a new flag in November.

House Bill 1796 passed in the Senate by a vote of 37-14, followed by extended applause and cheers.

The House originated the bill and voted 91-23 earlier Sunday afternoon to take down the flag.

The lead-up to passage included tears, last-minute counting of votes to ensure support in both chambers, and scores of emails and social media posts from Mississippians.

Mississippi is the last state in the nation to fly a flag with a Confederate battle emblem.

The vote did not come in the Senate without impassioned speeches and a last-minute attempt to amend the bill, led by Republican state Sen. Angela Burks Hill of Picayune. Her amendment would have put the current flag and three alternate designs on a statewide ballot.

Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who also pushed for a statewide vote, said: "You have to let the people have their say sometimes if for no other reason than to diffuse their anger. They're just angry. They want to be heard."

The amendment failed 39-19.

In the end, the day was won by mounting opposition to the Confederate symbol as the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum across the country.

'The pain this flag represents'

"I feel very confident I know what the flag represents for a lot of people in the state and around the world," said Republican state Sen. Briggs Hopson III of Vicksburg. "They've told me personally. They've told me about the pain this flag represents."

If addition, he said, the flag is costing Mississippi jobs.

"If you care about economic development and if you want to give Mississippi the best chance to succeed and create opportunities ... there's no doubt in my mind that we need to get rid of the flag with the Confederate symbol."

State Sen. David Jordan, a Black Democrat from Greenwood, told his colleagues about his brother, who had served in World War II and tried, unsuccessfully, to get a hamburger at the back door of a new restaurant. Inside eating were three German prisoners of war, brought to the Delta to help harvest crops. "Here is a man who fought to help us win that war ... and he couldn't get a sandwich from the back door."

Jordan also described how someone yelled the word "watermelon" while he spoke during a 2000 hearing on changing the flag.

"This is a glorious day that we have the nerve and the courage to change something that pretty well hurts, although they may be afraid to say it, 1 million African Americans of this state. ...

"It is time for the 3 million people of this state to come together and make our state a great state."

After more speeches, Hopson closed discussion: "Say what you want, but the decision you make today will make our state better. It's time. ... Stand up, and let's move Mississippi in a different direction."


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