Mississippi lawmakers passed a bill to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state's flag after the divisive symbol had come under renewed criticism in the wake of racial injustice protests across the nation.
The bill called for the emblem to be removed from the current flag and the creation of a nine-member commission to design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate battle emblem, but should include the phrase "In God We Trust." The bill requires the current flag to be removed from all government buildings 15 days from when the governor signs it.
Voters will either approve or reject the new flag design on Nov. 3. If they reject it, the commission will have to design another flag with the same guidelines.
Gov. Tate Reeves said Saturday that he will sign a bill to change the flag if it was approved by the Republican-controlled legislature, adding that the argument over the flag had become "as divisive as the flag itself and it's time to end it."
A spokesperson for Reeves told the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger that the governor would not sign the bill on Sunday, but would sign it "in the coming days."
"The governor does not want to rush this moment in history for our state," the spokesperson said. "Once the Legislature sends the final bill to his desk and he's had the opportunity to review it, Gov. Reeves will sign the bill in the coming days."
Mississippi was the last remaining state to officially fly the Confederate battle emblem — long viewed as a racist and divisive symbol in a state that has a nearly 40% Black population.
The Mississippi House of Representatives voted 91–23 to pass the bill on Sunday, and the Senate approved it 37–14 the same day.
There was a standing ovation in the Senate after the bill was passed.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, the longest-serving Black elected official in Mississippi, tweeted, "I am looking forward to finally being able to fly a Mississippi state flag that represents all of us in front of my office."
On Saturday, the state House and the Senate voted to allow Sunday's debate on the flag bill that only required a simple majority to pass.
Recent protests against racial injustice and police brutality reinvigorated demands to remove Confederate symbols and pull down statues commemorating historical figures associated with slavery and racism.
This led to renewed calls from the state's lawmakers and other institutions, including the Mississippi Historical Society, to change the state flag.
"Our position comes out of acknowledgement that the inclusion of Confederate imagery on the flag in 1894 did not represent all Mississippians," the society said in a statement.
Confederate imagery continues to be associated with "with various acts of terror and violence that have accompanied some of our nation’s most recent racial injustices," the society said. "We support retiring the current flag as a historical artifact and selecting a new flag that will unify, not divide."
During Saturday's debate, Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr., a Black Democrat, said, “[The flag] ought to be something that we all feel a sense of pride that when we see it, we know that that’s about us,” the Washington Post reported. “Not just some of us.”
Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is a Republican, strongly opposed changing the flag on Saturday, warning his colleagues that the American flag could be the next to be taken down.
McDaniel said he wanted voters to decide for themselves on whether to change the flag, according to the Post.
"I don’t see how that makes me a racist," he said. "I don’t see how that makes me a terrible human being.”