Mississippi lawmakers have voted to remove the Confederate battle emblem from their state flag, more than a century after white supremacist legislators adopted the design a generation after the South lost the Civil War.
Mississippi’s House and Senate voted in succession on Sunday afternoon to retire the flag, each chamber drawing broad bipartisan support for the historic decision.
Republican Governor Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill, and the state flag would lose its official status as soon as he signs the measure.
He did not immediately signal when the signing would take place.
The state had faced mounting pressure to change its flag during the past month amid international protests against racial injustice in the United States.
Cheering and applause erupted as lawmakers hugged each other in the Senate with final passage. Even those on the opposite side of the issue also hugged as an emotional day of debate drew to a close.
A commission would design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust.”
Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the November 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will set a different design using the same guidelines, and that would be sent to voters later.
Mississippi has a 38% Black population — and the last state flag that incorporates the emblem that is widely seen as racist.
Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, has pushed for five years to change the flag, saying that the Confederate symbol is offensive.
The House passed the bill 91-23 and the Senate passed it 37-14.
The flag’s supporters resisted efforts to change it for decades, but rapid developments in recent weeks have changed dynamics on this issue in the tradition-bound state.
As protests against racial injustice recently spread across the US, including Mississippi, leaders from business, religion, education and sports have spoken forcefully against the state flag. They have urged legislators to ditch the 126-year-old banner for one that better reflects the diversity of a state with a 38% black population.
Democratic senator David Jordan, who is African American, has pushed for decades to change the flag. He smiled broadly after Saturday’s vote and said: “This is such a metamorphosis.”
Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem – a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. The flag has been divisive for generations. All of the state’s public universities have stopped flying it, as have a growing number of cities and counties.