The Republican governor of the southern US state of Mississippi signed a bill Tuesday removing the Confederate battle standard from the state flag, after nationwide protests drew renewed attention to symbols of the United States’ racist past.
“This is not a political moment, it is a solemn occasion to come together as a Mississippi family, reconcile, and move forward together,” Governor Tate Reeves wrote on Facebook.
Mississippi is the only American state to incorporate the Confederate standard on its official flag, after nearby Georgia dropped it in 2003.
Tate said a commission on the flag would “begin the process of selecting a new one — emblazoned with the words ‘In God We Trust.'”
The swift signing comes after state lawmakers voted Sunday to remove the emblem in a 91-23 majority vote in the House of Representatives and a 37-14 vote in the Senate.
Mississippians, nearly 40 percent of whom are African American, will vote on the design in November. If they reject the new design, Mississippi will go without a state flag until a new one is approved.
“We can move on, and with God’s help, we will,” Tate said at the Tuesday signing.
Tate had previously stated he would sign the bill into law, following weeks of mounting pressure.
Mississippi senator Roger Wicker hailed the signing, calling it “a historic & long-awaited day for Mississippi.”
“I appreciate our state legislators for having the courage and conviction to make this necessary change to our state flag,” he tweeted.
“As I have maintained since 2015, Mississippians deserve a banner that unites us rather than divides us.”
But Stephanie Rolph, a Mississippi historian at Millsaps College in Jackson, warned against celebrating too much.
“I want to be cautious in how much significance we attach to” removing the Confederate battle symbol, said Rolph, who is also a member of the Mississippi Historical Society.
“What I don’t want to see is to see that as the end of the battle,” she told AFP. “I think it should be the tipping point for an investment in the state education about the meaning of that symbol and about the various other ways that economic violence, social terrorism and other disparities have followed and really left a legacy behind the end of slavery.”
Racial injustice has been the subject of a renewed and fiery national conversation in the United States since the death in May of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.