January 26, 2021

House votes to adopt new state flag; one step left to officially adopt Magnolia flag approved by voters

Mississippi is a short step from formally adopting a new state flag with a magnolia and the phrase “In God We Trust” to replace a Confederate-themed flag legislators mothballed six months ago.

Voters approved the new flag in November after a commission recommended the design. Legislators must put a description of the new flag into state law.

House members voted 119-1 to do that Tuesday, moments after the 2021 legislative session started. The only “no” vote came from Republican Rep. Steve Horne of Meridian. He was among the 23 House members who voted against retiring the old flag last year.

Senators are scheduled to finish passing the bill for the new flag Wednesday, and Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to sign it into law.

“This new flag boldly declares our trust in God, as a state,” Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said Tuesday. “As we enter into a new year, a new session, may God bless our efforts and may God bless the state of Mississippi as we set sail under this new flag.”

Mississippi legislators voted in late June to get rid of the last state flag in the U.S. that included the Confederate battle emblem — a red field with a blue X topped by 13 white stars. Mississippi had used the same flag since 1894, and critics have said for generations that the banner was a racist symbol that failed to represent a state with the largest percentage of Black residents in the nation.

Democratic Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, who is Black, was among the leaders who worked to retire the Confederate-themed flag. He said Tuesday that the new flag represents a better future.

“It’s an indication that as a Legislature and state, we can find a way to come together to meet the needs of all of the people of the state of Mississippi,” Johnson said.

The 174-member Mississippi Legislature met Tuesday for the first time since the fall. The 2020 session was extended several times as lawmakers worked to distribute federal money to state agencies fighting the coronavirus pandemic. A big topic this year will be how to continue responding to the pandemic as case numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise.

Dozens of Mississippi legislators, including Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, tested positive for the coronavirus during the summer shortly after the push to change the flag — an effort that attracted hundreds of people to the Capitol.

Hosemann said last week that he thinks the Legislature should delay handling most business until March and only handle a few pressing matters this week. Gunn has disagreed, saying legislators need to press ahead with their work. The session is scheduled to end April 4.