Mississippi could have enough votes to redesign its flag, senior lawmaker says

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Mississippi could have enough votes to redesign its flag, senior lawmaker says

Mississippi lawmakers intent on removing the Confederate emblem from the state flag could prevail after the number of required votes 'appear to be

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Mississippi lawmakers intent on removing the Confederate emblem from the state flag could prevail after the number of required votes ‘appear to be there,’ according to a senior lawmaker.

Mississippi is the last state in America to fly a flag with the controversial Confederate battle emblem, which has increasingly come under criticism as anti-racism and police brutality protests grip the nation.   

State Rep. Robert Johnson III told NBC News that officials appeared to have enough support to redesign the state flag ahead of a likely vote on Saturday.

‘Supporters of a flag change worked through the night to secure the remaining votes necessary for a successful vote to change the state flag,’ said Johnson, the Democratic leader of the state’s House of Representatives. 

‘The votes to make that change are there in the House and appear to be there in the Senate. There very well may be a first step taken today in the House by passing a rules suspension to take up a bill to remove the current state flag.’

Mississippi lawmakers are set to vote on redesigning the state's flag to remove the Confederate battle emblem (pictured) that was adopted in 1894

Mississippi lawmakers are set to vote on redesigning the state’s flag to remove the Confederate battle emblem (pictured) that was adopted in 1894

Mississippi’s flag features red, white and blue stripes with a Confederate battle emblem in the corner. It was first adopted in 1894 and has not wavered in more than a century.

Proposals to change the flag have repeatedly entered the statehouse, but were shot down each time. 

In 2001, residents were given the opportunity the vote for a new flag through a public referendum; 64 per cent of voters chose no. 

‘These kinds of issues, sadly, always seem to break down on racial lines,’ Johnson told CNN.

State Rep. Robert Johnson III (pictured) of Mississippi's House of Representatives is one of many vocal politicians calling for the Confederate emblem's removal

State Rep. Robert Johnson III (pictured) of Mississippi’s House of Representatives is one of many vocal politicians calling for the Confederate emblem’s removal 

There have been repeated calls to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the flag, but proposals presented to lawmakers were shot down

There have been repeated calls to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the flag, but proposals presented to lawmakers were shot down 

White people make up nearly 70 per cent of Mississippi’s population, according to US Census Bureau, while Black people account for 37.8 per cent. 

But the death of George Floyd sparked a resurgence in calls for its removal over its ties to the racism, oppression, slavery and for its perceived status as a symbol of hate. 

Already, NASCAR announced that it banned any displays of the rebel flag, and Walmart said it would ‘remove the Mississippi state flag from display in its current form from our store.’

Confederate statues across the country have been toppled over by protesters who say the monuments celebrated racial injustice.

Even Mississippi native and country music star Faith Hill voiced her support in a series of tweets that called the flag a ‘direct symbol of terror for our black brothers and sisters.’ 

If the bill is successfully passed through the House, it will continue into the state senate for another vote.  

Johnson admitted to CNN that he’s concerned about the bill’s fate in Senate, but the House can ‘put some pressure on the Senate to go on and take a bill up.’ 

Johnson III (pictured) sports a hand written message on his face mask of "take it down," referencing the need to replace the current Mississippi flag which has in the canton portion of the banner the design of the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag, that has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement

Johnson III (pictured) sports a hand written message on his face mask of “take it down,” referencing the need to replace the current Mississippi flag which has in the canton portion of the banner the design of the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag, that has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement

Protesters kneel in silent protest for almost nine minutes during a protest over George Floyd's death and police brutality (pictured)

Protesters kneel in silent protest for almost nine minutes during a protest over George Floyd’s death and police brutality (pictured) 

Critics and supporters of the bill were seen outside the state Capitol on Saturday ahead of the House’s vote. 

Karen Holt of Edwards, Mississippi, was with several people asking lawmakers to adopt a new banner with a magnolia, which is both the state tree and the state flower, and with stars to represent Mississippi as the 20th state. 

She said it would represent ‘joy of being a citizen of the United States,’ unlike the current flag.

‘We don’t want anything flying over them, lofty, exalting itself, that grabs onto a deadly past,’ Holt said.

Dan Hartness of Ellisville, Mississippi, walked outside the Capitol carrying a pole that had both the American flag and the current Mississippi flag. He said the current state flag pays tribute to those who fought in the Civil War.

Joe Brister of Madison, paused briefly in the parking lot of the Mississippi Capitol on Friday and said he wants to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi state flag, which is shown on the large sign on the truck

Joe Brister of Madison, paused briefly in the parking lot of the Mississippi Capitol on Friday and said he wants to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi state flag, which is shown on the large sign on the truck

‘Being a veteran, that’s important to me – that you remember these guys that fought in battle, whether they’re on the right side or the wrong side,’ Hartness said.

The surge of pressure resting on Mississippi lawmaker’s shoulders appeared to have been enough for Republican Gov. Tate Reeves to support its removal after declaring April Confederate Heritage Month.

For years, Reeves argued that the decision should be made by civilians, ‘not some backroom deal by a bunch of politicians in Jackson.’ 

On Monday, he shared a Facebook post where he admitted that he ‘repeatedly warned’ that politicians looking to change Mississippi’s flag would face swift backlash.

‘Over the last several years, I have repeatedly warned my fellow Mississippians that any attempt to change the current Mississippi flag by a few politicians in the Capitol will be met with much contempt,’ he wrote.

‘If the leadership in 2001 had not put it on the ballot, then the conversation may be different. But they did.’ 

After years of arguing that civilians should decide the fate of the Mississippi flag, Gov. Tate Reeves (pictured) relented by saying he'd sign a bill to redesign the flag if one was presented this weekend

After years of arguing that civilians should decide the fate of the Mississippi flag, Gov. Tate Reeves (pictured) relented by saying he’d sign a bill to redesign the flag if one was presented this weekend 

Reeves then admonished a proposal being shared around the Senate that suggested the state have two separate flags.

‘Let’s call it the ‘Separate but Equal’ flag option,’ wrote Reeves. 

‘While well-intentioned I’m sure, it does not meet the threshold. Any similar plan would actually accomplish the exact opposite of our stated goal—it would actually divide our state more. 

‘I don’t believe it would satisfy either side of this debate, and I don’t think it is a viable alternative.’

Johnson also rejected the notion of two state flags, even going so far as to share a letter on Twitter where Mississippi House Democrats rejected the notion.

‘Mississippi House Democrats for years have consistently urged the Mississippi Legislature to do its job and make tough decisions in the best interest of the state,’ the letter read.

‘The decision to remove the Confederate battle emblem from out State Flag is one of those decisions; it is out decision to make, and the time is now.’  

Reeves shared a post on Facebook that said uniting Mississippi together would 'be harder than recovering from tornadoes, harder than historic floods'

Reeves shared a post on Facebook that said uniting Mississippi together would ‘be harder than recovering from tornadoes, harder than historic floods’

A letter shared by Johnson III showed that Mississippi House democrats rejected the idea of the state having two separate flags

A letter shared by Johnson III showed that Mississippi House democrats rejected the idea of the state having two separate flags 

On Saturday morning, Reeves relented on his previous stance and said if legislature presented a bill this weekend, ‘I will sign it.’

‘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.’ he wrote Saturday morning.

‘It will be harder than recovering from tornadoes, harder than historic floods, harder than agency corruption, or prison riots or the coming hurricane season—even harder than battling the Coronavirus.

‘For economic prosperity and for a better future for my kids and yours, we must find a way to come together.’

The Mississippi Baptist Convention, which has more than 500,00 members at more than 2,100 churches, declared lawmakers had a moral obligation to remove the Confederate emblem because it has ‘hurt and shamed’ citizens, Reuters reports. 

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who is black, told WLBT that he’s long supported the removal of the Confederate emblem from the flag. 

‘If you personally have an affiliation for the flag, then I don’t care whether you fly it in your own home, but don’t fly it over my children,’ he said. 

Mississippi House of Representatives Speaker Philip Gunn said on Friday that ‘at this point we are just counting our votes trying to see where we are.’

‘This would also depend on where the Senate is – this isn’t something the Mississippi House of Representatives can pass on its own. It would require the Mississippi Senate passing anything we voted on as well.’ 

Between that and the US undergoing a reckoning on racial injustice, Johnson said that makes the vote ‘just a matter of time.’

For Johnson, growing up amidst the Civil Rights movement shaped his understanding of the flag.

‘I was born in 1958. I grew up in the Civil Rights movement. I actually saw Klansmen ride down the middle of main street with Confederate flags and with shouts and rants of terror.

‘They were bold and out there. There were Black people that were just murdered. Some disappeared for no other reason than they were Black. People boasted about it.’

‘I grew up in an era where I watched that happen,’ he added. ‘So, that flag means nothing but hate and terror to me.’

According to Johnson, the Confederate emblem has limited economic and educational growth in the state, as well as kept young people away.

‘If we could remove that flag, it opens up a brand-new door for the state of Mississippi,’ said Johnson.  

Joe Brister of Madison, Miss., pauses briefly in the parking lot of the Mississippi Capitol on Friday, June 26, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. Brister says he wants to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi state flag, which is shown on the large sign on the truck. (AP Photo/Emily Wagster Pettus)

Joe Brister of Madison, Miss., pauses briefly in the parking lot of the Mississippi Capitol on Friday, June 26, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. Brister says he wants to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi state flag, which is shown on the large sign on the truck. (AP Photo/Emily Wagster Pettus)

A different design has been gaining traction the past few years, with people flying it at their homes and businesses.

The ‘Stennis flag’ has red bars on either end and a white center topped with blue stars – 19 small ones encircling a large 20th one.

The flag was designed by Jackson artist Laurin Stennis, granddaughter of US Senator John C. Stennis, who served 41 years before retiring in 1989.

The elder Stennis was a segregationist much of his career. His granddaughter rejects that mindset, saying she wants her design to unify the state.

Laurin Stennis, an artist whose grandfather was a US senator who supported segregation, speaks outside her home in Jackson in April 2019. She explains how she thinks a flag she designed, which flies next to her, would be an appropriate symbol to replace the state flag that Mississippi has used since 1894

Laurin Stennis, an artist whose grandfather was a US senator who supported segregation, speaks outside her home in Jackson in April 2019. She explains how she thinks a flag she designed, which flies next to her, would be an appropriate symbol to replace the state flag that Mississippi has used since 1894

Critics say Mississippi should not adopt a flag with any connection to the former senator. 

All eight of Mississippi´s public universities stopped flying the state flag years ago because of the Confederate symbol.

Many removed it after a white supremacist shot and killed worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Black and white religious leaders in Mississippi issued a statement Thursday calling the flag ‘a major source of disagreement and discontent.’

Two dozen took part in a news conference, urging legislators to remove the Confederate symbol.

They said a statewide vote would be divisive.

Ronnie Crudup Sr., administrative bishop for the Fellowship of International Churches, said that when his father and other black soldiers were together in their dress uniforms after returning to Mississippi from the Korean War, a white man used a racial slur against them and told them nothing had changed.

‘By not changing the flag,’ Crudup said, ‘we’re saying to the world: “Nothing has changed”.’

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