Look away, Dixie: Mississippi to lose rebel emblem from flag

Sens. Chad McMahan, left, R-Guntown, and Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson, applaud after the Senate approved legislation to change the state flag, Sunday at the Capitol in Jackson. Lawmakers voted to surrender the Confederate battle emblem from their state flag. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill.

TUPELO • Around 70% of Northeast Mississippi lawmakers over the weekend voted to approve legislative measures to remove the state’s flag, which is the last state flag in the nation to feature a Confederate battle emblem.

On Saturday, June 27, both chambers of the Legislature voted to suspend the rules to take up a bill to change the flag.

On Sunday, June 28, both chambers of the Legislature voted to pass a bill to change the state flag. The bill says that a nine-member commission will be established to create a new design for the flag. The design will then be placed on the ballot for a vote. If a majority of the voters reject the new design, the commission will then create another design for the flag to be voted on by Mississippians.

In the Mississippi Senate, seven Northeast Mississippi lawmakers voted in favor of the suspension resolution and the flag bill.

The most vocal proponents of the measures were state Sens. Nicole Akins Boyd, R-Oxford, and Chad McMahan, R-Guntown.

Boyd wrote in a social media post that there was not a perfect answer to the flag issue, but she did believe it was time for the state to unite around a new symbol.

“We cannot continue to compete regionally or nationally with this burdensome yoke of racist symbolism on our necks,” Boyd said. “That is why almost every major economic organization in the state is asking that we furl our present flag. We cannot continue to feed our youngest and brightest to the ‘brain drain’ that leeches the lifeblood of our future to competing states.”

McMahan told the Daily Journal that he simply voted to change the flag because his constituents asked him to do so by a two-to-one margin. He also spoke on the Senate floor Sunday.

Some of the most vocal opponents of the measure were State Sens. Daniel Sparks, R-Belmont, and Kathy Chism, R-New Albany.

Sparks and Chism both said they believed that a decision about the flag should be left up to Mississippians to vote on instead of legislative action. On Sunday, Sparks spoke in favor of an amendment that would have placed the possibility of a flag change on a ballot.

Hours before she cast a vote, Sen. Rita Potts Parks, R-Corinth, voted in favor of suspending the rules. She wrote in a Facebook post that the state must acknowledge that “change is upon us.”

“For America’s perception of Mississippi to change, it is not the flag that must change, but the hearts of the people must change – the flag is merely symbolic,” Parks wrote. “I sincerely believe the hearts of Mississippians are changing.”

She was absent from Sunday’s debate and did not cast a vote on the bill to change the state’s flag.

State Sen. Benjamin Suber, R-Bruce, voted against the resolution to suspend the rules, but he voted in favor of the bill to change the state flag.

“I have said from the beginning of this flag debate that I understand people want to take down the current flag,” Suber said in a Facebook post. “I agree we need change, I have just felt it needed to be decided by the people.”

In the Mississippi House of Representatives, around 14 Northeast Mississippi lawmakers voted in favor of the rules suspension and 16 voted in favor of the flag bill.

The most vocal proponents of the measures in the House were Reps. Nick Bain, R-Corinth, and Clay Deweese, R-Oxford.

Bain, a former Democratic lawmaker, was one of the first Northeast Mississippi legislators to publicly announce his support of the flag. He said the social and economic pressure surrounding the intense debate would eventually tear the state apart.

“It is now time, and I am convicted that changing the flag makes Alcorn County and Mississippi better,” Bain said on Twitter. “Whenever my time in public service is complete, I want my children to look back and be proud of what I’ve done. A vote to keep the flag does not accomplish this goal.”

Deweese said in a series of tweets that he voted in favor of changing the bill to support Oxford and hopes this decision will “write a new chapter of unity in Mississippi’s history book.”

“I’ve come to this view not because of the economic threats made toward MS in recent days but because I believe it is simply the right thing to do,” Deweese tweeted.

The most vocal opponent of the measures was state Rep. Chris Brown, R-Nettleton. Brown said on the House floor that he believed the decision should also be left up to voters on a ballot. Brown voted against the rules suspension resolution, but was absent from the debate on Sunday.

Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, is the chairman of the House Rules Committee, who had a front row seat to most of the legislative action. He opposed the suspension resolution, but did allow it to be brought up in his committee. He voted against the resolution, but ultimately voted in favor of changing the flag.

In a passionate speech on the House floor, Turner told other House members that he believed the bill would initiate “a destiny called unity” for the state.

“This has been something most of us have had to wrestle with over the years,” Turner said. “It’s been a long haul.”

The bill has been sent to Gov. Tate Reeves, who will either sign or veto the bill. He previously said that he plans to sign the bill into law.

taylor.vance@journalinc.com

Twitter: @taylor_vance28

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