Mississippi voters are expected to vote on a new state flag design at the general election on November 3, 2020.
On June 27, 2020, the state legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 79, which suspended the legislative deadlines for introducing bills so that a bill could be introduced to establish a commission to design a new state flag. House Bill 1796 was then introduced and passed by the state legislature on June 28, 2020, in a vote of 92-23 in the House and 37-14 in the Senate.
In the House, all 46 Democratic representatives voted in favor of the bill. The vote among House Republicans was split with 45 voting in favor, 23 voting against, and five absent or not voting. Independent Representative Angela Cockerham voted in favor. There were two vacancies in the House at the time of the vote.
In the Senate, all 16 Democratic senators voted in favor of the bill. The vote among Senate Republicans was split with 22 voting in favor, 16 voting against, and one absent or not voting.
The bill requires the governor’s signature. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) is expected to sign it. Reeves said, “The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag. 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.”
The bill establishes the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag, which must design a new state flag and report the recommended design to the Governor and to the state legislature by September 14, 2020. The new flag design may not include the Confederate Battle Flag and must include the words “In God We Trust.” The bill provides that “the new design for the Mississippi State Flag shall honor the past while embracing the promise of the future.”
The Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag was designed to consist of nine members. The Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor would each appoint three members. The other three members would be representatives from the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, to be appointed by Gov. Tate Reeves. All appointments to the commission would need to be made by July 15, 2020.
Voters would be shown a colored picture of the new proposed state flag and would vote either yes to adopt the new flag or no to oppose adopting the new state flag. If the new proposed flag is rejected by voters, the commission would reconvene, design another flag, and allow voters to approve or reject it at a special election in November 2021.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R) said that the Confederate flag had come to be viewed as a hate symbol “whether we like it or not” and that “by changing our flag, we don’t abandon our founding principles. We embrace them more fully by doing what is right. We’re not moving further away from our Founding Fathers’ visions. We’re moving closer to them. We’re not destroying our heritage; we’re fulfilling it.”
Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) argued in the state legislature to keep the current state flag. McDaniel said, “I can see where any symbol can be subject to misinterpretation …I’m going to come down on the side of history and tradition.”
Voters in Mississippi decided a state flag referendum in April 2001. The referendum was referred to the ballot by the legislature. The measure presented voters with two potential state flags. Voters approved Proposition A, which reaffirmed the use of the flag adopted in 1894 containing the Confederate Battle Flag.
The 2001 flag referendum came about after a lawsuit brought by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) alleging that the use of the Confederate flag in the state flag violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the state flag’s inclusion of the Confederate Battle Flag did not violate any constitutionally protected rights. The court had also found that the state flag requirements were not codified in state law and thus that Mississippi did not have an official state flag. The 2001 flag referendum was held to formally adopt a state flag and officially codify it in law.
Five citizen initiatives related to the Mississippi state flag—one which sought to change the flag and four which sought to keep or more formally recognize it—were proposed in 2018 and 2019. None of those measures made it to the ballot.
Mississippi became the only state with a flag containing the Confederate flag after Georgia removed it from their state flag in 2001. The Georgia state flag had contained the Confederate flag since 1956.