June 29, 2020 10:14:07 AM
Sunday, the Mississippi Legislature did in the span of four hours what seemed virtually impossible as recently as a month ago. Mississippi will have a new flag, perhaps before the end of the year, after both the Senate and the House voted resoundingly to remove the current flag, with its conspicuous Confederate imagery.
The bill, approved by a combined 129-37 vote, now goes to Gov. Tate Reeves, who is expected to sign the bill into law this week. A nine-member commission will choose a design, which voters can either approve or reject during the Nov. 3 general election.
While we won't know what the new flag will look like, we do know it will not include any Confederate imagery. On Sunday, the final vote was met with cheers and tears of joy, especially among black legislators, who have long called for the change but never had enough support from white legislators to effect the change.
In one respect, it is proper to hail Sunday's vote as a historic event worthy of celebration. But in another respect, we have to wonder, with no small amount of dismay, why it took 126 years to removed a flag designed as a Jim Crow act of defiance to racial equality.
In recent weeks, it became clear that retaining the flag had become an untenable position. Just about every organization under the sun - from churches to businesses to universities to athletic organizations - called on the Legislature to remove the flag rather than leave it up to the voters.
We suspect for many of he lawmakers it was that pressure that lead to Sunday's decisive action. When the water gets hot enough, the frog wants out of the pot.
How should Sunday's decision be viewed? It may rely not so much on what happened in the Legislature than what will follow.
The flag is a symbol, so the decision to change the flag is symbolic as well.
Does changing the flag send a message that our state will stand united to address so many of the inequities that negatively affect Mississippi's black citizens in disproportionate numbers - issues such as health care, education and jobs?
If so, Sunday's decision is cause for celebration because it ushers in a new chapter in the history of a state where black citizens have struggled for true equality.
But if Sunday's vote does not represent the beginning of a new era in our state, one that unifies all citizens, black and while alike, to achieve the common good, it will be remembered as merely a sign of appeasement.
If that is what awaits us, Sunday's action will ring hollow.
It will be the responsibility of every Mississippian to either make what happened Sunday a truly historic milestone or little more than a historical footnote.
The decision to change the flag was made Sunday by a small group of legislators in Jackson.
The greater, more meaningful, change rests in the hands of every Mississippian.
Let's make Sunday's decision count for something.
1. Our View: NAACP's letter takes wrong approach DISPATCH EDITORIALS
3. Voice of the people: On paying to move the statue LETTERS TO THE EDITOR ([email protected])
4. Armstrong Williams: Who can the American people trust? NATIONAL COLUMNS
5. Other Editors: Election change might not be enough NATIONAL COLUMNS