By Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill into law on Tuesday that replaces the current state flag bearing a Confederate emblem, a gesture triggered by support across the United States to dismantle symbols of slavery and racism.
The removal of the flag, a long-simmering source of controversy in one of the breakaway Southern states that fought in the American Civil War of the 1860’s, follows the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody in Minnesota.
His death has sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and revived demands for the removal of statues of Confederate leaders, Christopher Columbus and others considered symbols of racism and colonial oppression.
“I understand the need to commit the 1894 flag to history and find a banner that is a better emblem for all Mississippi,” Reeves said in a televised speech. “We must understand that all who want change are not attempting to erase history.”
The measure signed by Mississippi’s first-term Republican governor also created a commission to design a new state flag. Voters will have the chance to approve the design in November, Reeves’ office said in a statement.
After the signing of the bill, a Mississippi state flag was removed from an array of flags of all states in the Dirksen tunnel at the U.S. Capitol, NBC said, citing a video.
The emblem was replaced with the Great Seal of Mississippi, portraying an eagle with spread wings and a shield with stars and stripes centered on its chest.
The state flag, which prominently features the so-called Confederate battle flag, had flown above the state Capitol building in Jackson for 126 years. It was taken down this weekend after state lawmakers approved the bill, media said.
In the 19th century, southern states faced with the prospect of having to give up slavery formed the Confederacy and broke away from the United States, leading to the Civil War, fought from 1861 to 1865.
Symbols of the failed rebellion were erected throughout the South during the years of racial segregation and violence known as the Jim Crow era. Despite years of progress and civil rights for Black Americans, many states resisted removing them.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Maria Ponnezhath; Editing by Grant McCool and Clarence Fernandez)