Reeves signs HB 1796

Gov. Tate Reeves during a ceremony on Tuesday signed House Bill 1796, which retires Mississippi’s current state flag. 

“Tonight, I am signing a law to turn a page in Mississippi - by retiring the flag that we have flown since 1894,” Reeves said. “This was a hard conversation for Mississippi, but family conversations can often be hard.” 

Reeves said that over the past few weeks, he has heard that the “eyes of the nation” were on Mississippi. 

“Franky, I’m not all that concerned about the eyes of the nation,” he said. “I do care, however, about looking in the eyes of everyone of my neighbors and making sure they know that their state recognizes the equal dignity and honor they possess as a child of the South, a child of Mississippi, and yes, as a child of an Almighty God. The eyes I care about belong to my daughters — Tyler, Emma, and Maddie. And your children and grandchildren. And the eyes of all of our fellow Mississippians.” 

Reeves said that he knows there are people who are unhappy to see the flag change and fear “erasing our history.” 

“I understand those concerns and am determined to protect Mississippi from that dangerous outcome,” he said. “I also understand the need to commit the 1894 flag to history, and find a banner that is a better emblem for all Mississippi. There is a difference between monuments and flags. A monument acknowledges and honors our past. A flag is a symbol of our present, of our people, and of our future. For those reasons, we need a new symbol.” 

Reeves said as a young man, he couldn’t have “understood the pain that some of our neighbors felt when they looked at our flag — a pain that made many feel unwelcome and unwanted.” 

“Today, I hear their hurt,” Reeves said. “It sounds different than the outrage we see on cable TV in other places. It sounds like Mississippians, our friends, and our neighbors, asking to be understood.”

Reeves said that he had “long believed” the path towards reconciliation for Mississippi would be for the “people to retire this symbol on their own at the ballot box. And I believe we would have eventually chosen that outcome — a deliberate consensus by a thoughtful people.” 

“I am not a man who likes to change his mind,” Reeves said. “But through prison riots, Easter tornadoes, a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in over 100 years, and now this flag fight, all in just a few months, I have taken to replacing sleeping with praying.” 

Reeves said the “economy is on the edge of a cliff,” and lives are dependent on “us cooperating and being careful to protect one another.”

“I concluded our state has too much adversity to survive a bitter fight of brother against brother,” Reeves said. “We must work to defeat the virus and the recession and not be focused on trying to defeat each other. So last week, as the legislature deadlocked, the fight intensified, and I looked down the barrel of months of more division. I knew that our path forward was to end this battle now. There are people on either side of the flag debate who may never understand the other. We as a family must show empathy. We must understand that all who want change are not attempting to erase history. And all who want the status quo are not mean-spirited or hateful.” 

Reeves said that there is no “better way” for Mississippians to come together than to include “In God We Trust” on the new state flag. 

“The people of Mississippi, black and white, and young and old, can be proud of a banner that puts our faith front and center,” Reeves said. “We can unite under it. We can move forward — together. And know healing will not happen by a bill or by a politician or by a legislative body. It must be done neighbor to neighbor, brother to brother, and sister to sister, together as a family. Because reconciliation is something that only God can bring.” 

Reeves referenced his inaugural address — which occurred less than six months ago — where he outlined his priorities as “defending our loving culture and growing our economy.” 

“I promised to be governor for all Mississippi,” Reeves said. “And I am confident today’s action promotes both objectives. We may not always agree. But as members of the Mississippi family, we do know the bonds we all share: God’s grace. Mississippi grit. A foundation in our history, and a hope in our future. We can move on, and with God’s help, we will.”

The Mississippi Legislature on Sunday passed the House Bill 1796 — which calls for a redesign of Mississippi’s current state flag — minus the design of the Confederate Battle Flag. 

HB 1796 passed House with a vote of 91-23 and the Senate with a vote of 37-14. 

The bill allows for the creation of a nine-member commission to redesign the Mississippi State Flag. 

According to the bill, Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn will appoint three members; Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann will appoint three members; and Reeves will appoint three members to include a representative from the Mississippi Economic Council, a representative from the Mississippi Arts Commission, and a representative from the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. 

The bill also states that the flag’s new design must include the words “In God We Trust” and submitted for recommendation by Sept. 14, 2020. 

The new flag design will be placed on the ballot for the Nov. 3 election for a “yes” or “no” vote, to “provide that a majority of the qualified electors vote for the new design.” 

In a Facebook post dated June 27, Reeves indicated he would sign a bill to change the flag. 

“The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself, and it’s time to end it,” Reeves said. “If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it. We should not be under any illusion that a vote in the Capitol is the end of what must be done — the job before us to bring the state together and I intend to work night and day to do it. It will be harder than recovering from tornadoes, harder than historic floods, harder than agency corruption, or prison riots or the coming hurricane season — even harder than battling the Coronavirus. For economic prosperity and for a better future for my kids and yours, we must find a way to come together. To heal our wounds, to forgive, to resolve that the page has been turned, to trust each other.” 

According to the bill, appointments to the commission must be made no later than July 15. 

The commission can also host public meetings and receive written public comments. 

District 46 Sen. Philip Moran — in a Facebook post from Sunday — said this vote “was the toughest I have taken in nine years.”

“For myself, this vote was about the negative economic impact that the current flag has on our state and not about any outside influences,” Moran wrote. “Now I am looking forward to the positive economic impact the new flag will bring, including future projects at our military bases and the Stennis Space Center, along with new businesses looking to relocate here. Under the passed legislation, the current flag will be retired respectfully and the citizens will get the opportunity to vote on a new flag this November. I am excited for the future of our state.” 

District 122 State Representative Brent Anderson also voted in favor of the flag change. 

Hancock County NAACP President Gregory Barabino said Monday that the decision to change the flag was an “excellent” one and “many, many years too late.” 

“One more step towards righting the wrongs of society we live in,” he said. “I applaud those legislators who put their political career on the line for something so controversial.” 

Barabino said he hopes this “symbolic” gesture will fuel the process of addressing other issues such as education and wage gaps in Mississippi. 

Waveland Helping Hands Community Organization Vice-President Clarence Harris said the change was “long overdue.” 

“It was a shame that Mississippi still has to be last to do things,” he said. “At some point, we have to be the first.”

Read HB 1796 in its entirety at www.seacoastecho.com. 

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