Mississippi lawmakers have taken the historic step to change the state flag with its confederate battle emblem. After a weekend of emotional debate on both sides a bill is on its way to the governor’s desk that calls for the flag’s immediate removal.
By a 91 to 23 vote, the House moved quickly to pass House Bill 1796. The measure removes the current state flag with the confederate emblem and creates a nine member commission tasked with designing a new one. House Democrat Robert Johnson of Natchez became emotional talking about the passionate debate over the flag.
“What it does for me, there not just words what I heard those people talk about is an idea that they began to understand and feel the same thing that I’ve been feeling the 61-years of my life,” said Johnson.
The Senate then spent several hours debating the issue. Republican Senator Daniel Sparks of Belmont voted no. He says he told constituents he’d support their right to have a vote on the flag.
“The more I’ve been asked to break my word, the more difficult it’s become. I don’t want to disappoint any of you and I regret the disappointment that many feel by my vote. The most compelling argument to me is how the design negatively impacts the people in our state, some of the people whose faces I’m looking at right now. I’m simply trying to keep my word,” said Sparks.
Senator Juan Barnett of Heidelberg talked about serving in Desert Storm and Desert Shield with people of other races under one flag. Then returning to Mississippi where he says the state flag doesn’t foster unity.
“The state that I so love at that time still had something that did not unify us. So, today I stand with all of those who stood with me then and ask you all to ask yourself the question, ‘how long will we stand and say we are a United States of America, but an united state of Mississippi?’” said Barnett.
Senator Melanie Sojourner of Natchez voted no. She’s concerned about losing the significance of history by taking down the flag.
“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. We talked a lot this week about talking to our children. And the reason I stand and take these positions is because of my children,” said Sojourner.
House Bill 1796 passed the Senate 37 to 14. Once the bill takes effect, the state department of archives and history has 15 days to find a suitable way to retire the flag. The governor has said he will sign the bill.