More than 155 years after the end of the Civil War, the Mississippi state legislature voted on Sunday to replace the 126-year-old state flag that currently displays the Confederate emblem. The decision comes as Confederate symbols all across the country are being reexamined in the wake of heightened racial tensions following George Floyd’s murder. For Black Mississippians, the move is long overdue.
The bill passed by an overwhelming majority in both the House and the Senate. It will now move on to the desk of Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves who has already vocalized his support of the legislation.
Days earlier Johnny Magee, the mayor of Laurel, Mississippi, held back tears when signing an executive order that said the state flag should no longer be flown at any public facilities. “I don’t apologize for being emotional,” Magee told reporters. “I have lived through some things with this flag and as they told Dr. King to wait — time for waiting is over.”
Mississippi has long been regarded as a confederate stronghold with many Black Mississippians feeling the heavy weight of hateful practices and policies instituted before their birth and persistent throughout their lifetimes. For a number of Black people from the state and those with strong ties to it, the decision to remove a flag rooted in the racial terror of Black people comes as a much-welcomed and long-overdue change.
On Twitter, writer Clint Smith wrote, “Thinking of Mississippi. Thinking of my grandfather who was born there in 1930 in a town where lynchings and the Klan were too familiar. Thinking of my grandfather’s grandfather, born into slavery. Thinking of that flag, all that it carries, all that it means. Grateful it’s gone.”
In an interview with The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, Myrlie Evers, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, she echoed those sentiments, adding, “I can’t believe it. I am so emotional…Medgar’s wings must be clapping.”
Evers was assassinated 57 years ago this month in front of his two small children. The target of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists who felt threatened by his justice work, his murder, and the subsequent delay in convicting his killer, became another example of an all-too-common occurrence of justice delayed and denied by Black residents in the Deep South state that has long been marred by its decision to protect the institution of slavery.
“After years of Mississippians protesting on the front-lines, I am pleased to see our local elected officials vote to remove the confederate emblem from our state’s flag,” Guy King, democratic strategist and Mississippi native told ESSENCE. “I know the ancestors are looking down nodding in appreciation — but we must keep going. Though this symbolic gesture is a small step in the right direction of change and progress for our great state, there is still a long way to go in the fight for racial equality and justice for Black Mississippians.”
Mississippians will vote on the look of the state’s new flag at the polls this November.