JACKSON • Lawmakers cleared major hurdles on Saturday, voting to suspend legislative deadlines by a two-thirds vote, allowing a bill to be filed to change the state flag.
State Rep. Jason White, R-West, told members of the House that regardless of how one feels about the flag the “Confederate emblem on our state flag is viewed by many as a symbol of hate.”
“History will be made here today,” White said.
Earlier on Saturday, a legislative committee started the process by voting to suspend the rules for legislative deadlines.
The House Rules Committee, which is led by state Rep. Jerry Turner, voted to approve House Concurrent Resolution 79, which states a commission will be established to design the new flag. The commission would recommend a new design by Sept. 14, 2020 and voters will choose the final design in an election on Nov. 3.
The resolution says that the new design would not include any portion of the Confederate battle flag, but it will include the phrase “In God We Trust.”
Voters will either vote to approve or reject the design that the commission recommends. If the design is rejected by a majority of the voters, the commission will then present a new design to voters.
The resolution passed the House 85-34 and moved to the Senate, where it passed 36-14.
In the Senate, Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton, and Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, spoke in favor of the resolution, while Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, spoke against and said that the people should vote on this issue themselves.
“People here will paint me as a terrible human being,” McDaniel said. “The only thing I’m asking for is the right of the people to decide this issue for themselves... I don’t see how that makes me a terrible human being.”
Blackmon recalled several historical events she has witnessed and said she never thought she would see the flag come down in her lifetime.
“Just as I never thought in my lifetime to see a Barack Obama, I would have never thought I would see this flag come down... I will know exactly where I was on this day,” Blackmon said.
“I ask you to support this resolution, because it is right.”
Northeast Mississippi’s legislative delegation fell on both sides of the issue.
State Rep. Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie, told the Daily Journal in a telephone interview that he ultimately decide to vote against the resolution because of promises he made to his constituents while he was campaigning for re-election last year and “not anything about racism.”
“I held firm on my vote because of my constituents,” Boyd said.
State Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, told the Daily Journal that he ultimately decided to vote in favor of the resolution because his district asked him to by a two to one margin.
“My vote was cast representing the majority of the people I represent,” McMahan said. “Serving as state senator, I have consistently attempted to vote the will of the district which elected me to serve them in the Mississippi State Senate.”
Sen. Rita Potts Parks, R-Corinth, said on Facebook Saturday that the state had reached a time of critical decision.
“For America’s perception of Mississippi to change, it is not the flag that must change, but the hearts of the people must change,” she wrote. “The flag is merely symbolic. I sincerely believe the hearts of Mississippians are changing.”
Parks was one of the 35 Senate votes in favor of passing the resolution.
Several lawmakers from Northeast Mississippi this week announced publicly on social media that they were voting in favor of changing the flag.
State Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth, tweeted that the state would not be able to handle social and economic pressures if the flag was not changed.
“It is now time, and I am convicted that changing the flag makes Alcorn County and Mississippi better,” Bain said. “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.”
Gov. Tate Reeves said Saturday morning that if both chambers of the legislature vote to redesign the flag, he would sign the bill into law.
“The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag,” Reeves said on social media. “The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it. If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it.”
Mississippi has the last state flag that includes the Confederate battle emblem.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the flag lacked official status. State laws were updated in 1906, and portions dealing with the flag were not carried forward. Legislators set a flag election in 2001, and voters kept the rebel-themed design.
The current flag has remained divisive in a state with a 38% Black population. All of the state’s public universities and several cities and counties have stopped flying it because of the Confederate symbol.
The House has adjourned until Sunday at 2 p.m., and the Senate until 2:30 p.m.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.