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Mississippi Governor Signs To Remove Confederate Symbol From State Flag

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Mississippi is moving ahead with a plan to replace its state flag and remove a 126-year-old flag that included Confederate symbols. Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill on Tuesday that takes a historic step to retire the last U.S. state flag that features Confederate imagery. Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Ashley Norwood has more.

ASHLEY NORWOOD, BYLINE: As the Republican governor signed the bill, about a dozen people cheered outside of the governor's mansion.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Cheering).

(APPLAUSE)

NORWOOD: Leah Campbell drove up from the coast for the ceremony. She cried.

LEAH CAMPBELL: Today is for the people of color who know what that flag represents, the systems of white supremacy that have terrorized people of color in this state for hundreds of years (crying).

NORWOOD: In recent weeks, as national protests against racial injustice flared up around the country, Mississippi has been under pressure to change its flag. Over the weekend, the Republican-controlled legislature did just that, approving the bipartisan bill. Democratic Senator Angela Turner-Ford leads the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.

ANGELA TURNER-FORD: My mind kind of went back thinking about those people in the past who have filed bills to change the flag, you know, those who have stood for civil rights, and even going back further than that, you know, those who were oppressed under the conditions that have gone on here in the state of Mississippi.

NORWOOD: Like Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist and Mississippi NAACP leader who was assassinated in 1963. His daughter, Reena Evers-Everette, says Mississippi is not what it was in 1894, when lawmakers adopted the flag with prominent Confederate imagery.

REENA EVERS-EVERETTE: Thank God. Thank God. The tides are changing to a unified voice. And as my mother said about my father's wings, they're clapping to say, finally, finally we've all come together.

NORWOOD: In 2001, residents voted overwhelmingly not to change the flag. Some lawmakers wanted another public vote rather than legislative action. Governor Reeves says he understands the need to retire the 126-year-old flag but also recognizes some Mississippians who won't.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TATE REEVES: They fear a chain reaction of events erasing our history, a history that is no doubt complicated and imperfect. I understand those concerns and am determined to protect Mississippi from that dangerous outcome.

NORWOOD: Now, a nine-member commission will design a new flag that includes the words in God we trust - but cannot have the Confederate symbol. Residents will vote on the proposed design in the November election. If they reject it, the commission will draft a different banner and another public vote.

For NPR News, I'm Ashley Norwood in Jackson, Miss. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.