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It’s amazing what legislators can do when they put their minds to it! Mississippi’s political representatives have insisted since the flag was adopted in 1894 that the prominent stars and bars in the corner honored the state’s history. Heritage not hate, doncha know!
Why the state would choose to honor only the four years it fought a war to maintain the enslavement of Black people, out of its entire 203 year-long history, is a mystery. (No, it really isn’t). But the flag will be removed from all government buildings within the next two weeks after the legislature convened an emergency session to replace it and Governor Tate Reeves promised to sign the bill.
And while it’s probably an oversimplification to say that Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill forced the legislature to ditch the flag, he certainly gave it the final push.
The protests gripping the country since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25 kicked something loose, and the argument for maintaining racist symbols became increasingly untenable. The SEC and NCAA had already warned Mississippi that it would be barred from hosting championship games the week before the star player threatened to sit out the season if the flag didn’t come down.
Bulldogs’ coach Mike Leach supported Hill, then Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin followed suit. By Thursday, fifty Mississippi coaches had descended on the capital to testify in support of removing the Confederate symbol from the state’s flag. And suddenly the impossible became inevitable.
On Saturday, the Mississippi House of Representatives voted 91-23 for replacement, and on Sunday the Senate adopted the removal resolution 37-14 after a rigorous debate.
“When we remove our history or set our history aside, then we lose the opportunity to educate and inform and to have a conversation about what the true meaning of things are,” argued GOP Senator Melanie Sojourner, adding that “if we remove things, we don’t have the opportunity to have the conversations.”
But apparently there were a lot of conversations going on behind the scenes, and the bill picked up Republican support between Saturday and Sunday, when it became clear that the Overton window for “Positions You Can Credibly Claim to Hold Without Being a Racist” had narrowed significantly.
Even Jefferson Davis’s great-great grandson Bertram Hayes-Davis weighed in on making history into history, and not allowing it to define the present.
“It is historic and heritage-related, there are a lot of people who look at it that way, and God bless them for that heritage,” Hayes-Davis told CNN. “So put it in a museum and honor it there, or put it in your house, but the flag of Mississippi should represent the entire population, and I am thrilled that we’re finally going to make that change.”
A committee will convene to envision a new flag featuring the words “In God we trust,” to be submitted to voters for approval in November. Which has more than a whiff of government establishment of a religion, but it’s not overtly racist so … let’s call that a win!