Mississippi closer to removing Confederate battle emblem from state flag

Gov. Reeves says he'll sign a bill to change the state's flag after lawmakers clear the way for a vote.

Mississippi came closer to changing its state flag Saturday when more than two-thirds of the state Legislature voted to suspend rules to allow a vote on removing the Confederate battle emblem from its design.

For the first time Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said he would sign a bill to change the flag. He previously said he wouldn’t veto the bill and had expressed that voters should decide whether to change the flag.

“The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter. “If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it.”

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“For economic prosperity and for a better future for my kids and yours, we must find a way to come together. To heal our wounds, to forgive, to resolve that the page has been turned, to trust each other. With God’s help, we can," he added.

Don Hartness of Ellisville, walks around the Capitol carrying the current Mississippi state flag and the American flag, Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. (Associated Press)

Don Hartness of Ellisville, walks around the Capitol carrying the current Mississippi state flag and the American flag, Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. (Associated Press)

The flag, which has been controversial for years, is being reexamined for its ties to racism as America scrutinizes historical symbols, including statues and names of buildings, amid racial equality protests.

Supporters of a change include Bertram Hayes-Davis, a descendant of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

"The battle flag is a historic symbol of a conflict and should be appropriately displayed in museums as such," Hayes-Davis, 66, told Newsweek last week. "But it isn't something that I think demands any public display."

"The battle flag is a historic symbol of a conflict and should be appropriately displayed in museums as such. But it isn't something that I think demands any public display."

— Bertram Hayes-Davis, a descendant of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

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Debate on the bill can start Sunday and lawmakers could vote to remove the emblem then.

“The eyes of the state, the nation and indeed the world are on this House," state Rep. Jason White, Republican speaker pro tempore, said in the state House on Saturday. “I know there are many good people who ... believe that this flag is a symbol of our Southern pride and heritage, but for most people throughout our nation and the world, they see that flag and think that it stands for hatred and oppression."

Members of the Mississippi Senate gallery rise and applaud after the body passed a resolution that would suspend the rules to allow lawmakers to change the state flag, Saturday, June 27, 2020 at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (Associated Press)

Members of the Mississippi Senate gallery rise and applaud after the body passed a resolution that would suspend the rules to allow lawmakers to change the state flag, Saturday, June 27, 2020 at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (Associated Press)

Under the bill, a flag committee would create a new design that includes “In God we trust” potentially as part of the official state seal, according to FOX 40 in Jackson, Miss.

Mississippi state Sen. Sarita Simmons, D-Cleveland, left, hugs Republican Sen. Brice Wiggins, of Pascagoula, center, and Jeremy England, of Vancleave, following the body passing a resolution that would allow lawmakers to change the state flag Saturday, June 27, 2020, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (Associated Press)

Mississippi state Sen. Sarita Simmons, D-Cleveland, left, hugs Republican Sen. Brice Wiggins, of Pascagoula, center, and Jeremy England, of Vancleave, following the body passing a resolution that would allow lawmakers to change the state flag Saturday, June 27, 2020, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (Associated Press)

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State Rep. Chris Brown, a Republican, said he thinks both the current and proposed design should appear on the ballot for voters.

“I don't think we can move forward together if we say, 'You can have any flag you want except ... this one,'" Brown said. “If we put the current flag on the ballot with another good design, the people of Mississippi will change it. ... Let's not steal their joy."

Larry Eubanks of Star waves the current Mississippi state flag as he sits before the front of the Capitol, Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. (Associated Press)

Larry Eubanks of Star waves the current Mississippi state flag as he sits before the front of the Capitol, Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. (Associated Press)

In 2001, the last time removing the Confederate symbol from the flag was on the ballot, voters decided to keep it.

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While suspension of the rules required a two-thirds vote, passing the bill needs only a majority.

“I would never have thought that I would see the flag come down in my lifetime,” Democratic state Sen. Barbara Blackmon, who is African-American, said.

The House voted 84-35 and the Senate 36-14 Saturday, according to FOX 40.

The Associated Press and Fox News' Robert Gearty contributed to this report.