September 22, 2020

Tate Reeves says ‘it’s time to end’ flag debate, says he’ll support bill to change controversial emblem

As Mississippi lawmakers meet and possibly vote this weekend to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, the state’s governor shifted his position saying, “It’s time to end” the arguments over the flag.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, long a proponent of sending the flag issue back to voters, wrote Saturday that the 1894 flag has become so divisive that if legislators send a bill to him, “I will sign it.”

The state’s flag has come under intensifying criticism in recent weeks amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.

“We should not be under any illusion that a vote in the Capitol is the end of what must be done—the job before us is to bring the state together and I intend to work night and day to do it,” Reeves wrote in a social media post 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.”

Reeves who for years has suggested the matter needs to be decided by voters at the ballot box and who in recent days has dodged questions about his personal beliefs on the flag, said Saturday that Mississippi needs to come together and heal.

“For economic prosperity and for a better future for my kids and yours, we must find a way to come together,” Reeves said. “To heal our wounds, to forgive, to resolve that the page has been turned, to trust each other. With God’s help, we can.”

People for and against the current flag were gathering at the state Capitol on Saturday morning as lawmakers arrived.

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.

“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.

Mississippi has the last state flag that includes the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars.

Lawmakers could adopt a new Mississippi flag without Confederate imagery. Or they could kick the volatile issue to a statewide election, giving voters choices that might or might not include the current banner.

The battle emblem has been in the upper-left corner of the Mississippi flag since 1894. White supremacists in the Legislature put it there during backlash to the political power that African Americans gained after the Civil War.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the flag lacked official status. State laws were updated in 1906, and portions dealing with the flag were not carried forward. Legislators set a flag election in 2001, and voters kept the rebel-themed design.

But the flag has remained divisive in a state with a 38% Black population. All of the state’s public universities and several cities and counties have stopped flying it because of the Confederate symbol that many see as racist.

Influential business, religious, education and sports groups are calling on Mississippi to drop the Confederate symbol. Flag supporters say the banner should be left alone or put on the statewide ballot for voters to decide its fate.

The state’s annual legislative session is almost over, and it takes a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate to consider a bill after the normal deadlines have passed. Leaders have been working to secure those majorities.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.