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Reeves to sign legislation retiring state’s flag

JACKSON (AP) — Gov. Tate Reeves will sign a bill Tuesday evening to retire the last state flag in the U.S. that includes the Confederate battle emblem.

His office announced a signing ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion, two days after a broad coalition of legislators passed the landmark measure to change the flag.

As soon as Reeves signs the bill, the flag will lose its official status. Mississippi has come under increasing pressure to change its flag since protests against racial injustice have focused attention on Confederate symbols.

The state flag has been a source of division for generations.

White supremacist legislators put the Confederate battle emblem, with its red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars, on the upper-left corner of the Mississippi flag in 1894, as white people were squelching the fragile political power African Americans had gained after the Civil War.

Critics have said for generations that it’s wrong for a state where 38% of the people are Black to honor the rebel emblem, particularly since the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have used it to promote racist agendas.

Mississippi voters chose to keep the flag in a 2001 statewide election, with supporters saying they see it as a symbol of heritage. But since then a growing number of cities and all the state’s public universities have abandoned it.

Several Black legislators, and a few white ones, kept pushing for years to change it. After a white gunman who posed with the Confederate flag killed Black worshipers at a South Carolina church in 2015, Mississippi’s Republican speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, said his religious faith compelled him to say that Mississippi must purge the symbol from its flag.

But the issue was still broadly considered too volatile for legislators to touch until the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis set off weeks of sustained protests against racial injustice, followed by call after call to take down Confederate symbols.

A groundswell of business, religion, education and sports leaders called on Mississippi to make this change, finally providing the momentum for legislators to vote.

Reeves has repeatedly refused to say whether he thinks the Confederate-themed flag properly represents present-day Mississippi, sticking to a position he ran on last year when he promised people that if the flag design was going to be reconsidered, it would be done in another statewide election.

Now, a commission will design a new flag, one that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will set a different design using the same guidelines, to be sent to voters later.

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