Mississippi is the last American state whose flag still bears the colors of the slave states opposed to the North during the American Civil War (1861-1865). Part of the state banner is occupied by the 13-star blue cross on a red background of the Confederate states, a racist symbol in the eyes of many Americans.
The mobilizations that followed the death of George Floyd revived the debate on the legacy of the American Civil War and the elected officials of Mississippi voted, Saturday June 27, by a very clear majority in favor of a new flag.
A strong majority in both rooms
The presence of this Confederate heritage in official symbols has, for decades, been the subject of debate in Mississippi and, more broadly, in the South. In 2001, Georgia had changed its flag, but the voters of Mississippi had strongly opposed, the same year, the same initiative, in a referendum – 64% for the status quo against 36%.
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Mississippi, where 38% of the population is African-American, is therefore the last state to wear the “rebel” colors. But the wave of mobilization linked to the death of George Floyd also affected the cities of the South and revived the debate on the statues of the southern generals and on the Confederate symbols.
Numerous institutions (university, sports, economic, religious …) called to turn the page, and the debate won the Capitol of Jackson, capital of Mississippi. Saturday, June 27, the two chambers, although dominated by the Republicans (36 elected out of 52 in the Senate; 74 out of 122 in the House of Representatives), adopted by a large majority – more than 2/3 – a resolution calling for the development of a new flag.
Mississippi, a symbol of racism in the South in the 20th century
While no southern state has been spared racism and violence in the last century, Mississippi remains associated with particularly grim tragedies. It was in this state that Emmett Till, a black teenager living in Chicago on a vacation in the South, was brutally murdered in 1955.
A few years later, in 1963, Medgar Evers, a figure in the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), was murdered outside his home in Jackson by a member of the Ku Klux Klan. This new drama will inspire Nina Simone “Mississippi Goddam”, a title she always sang with rage, which will become one of the hymns of the fight for civil rights.
This death will not be the only one. It was still in Mississippi that three student civil rights activists were killed in 1964. In 1988, director Alan Parker drew from this story the plot of his film “Mississippi Burning”.
A referendum next November
The resolution passed on Saturday is only the first step in this procedure. A law must now be debated, this Sunday, June 28, in particular to appoint a commission responsible for designing the new flag. It is stipulated in the resolution that it cannot include the Confederate banner and that it must bear the official American motto “In God we trust”.
The current flag was adopted in 1894, “To signify opposition to civil rights and racial equality”, recalls the Mississippi Historial Society, which called for a change of flag.
The alternative project will then be submitted to voters by referendum, during the presidential and legislative elections on November 3.