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By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — With a stroke of the governor’s pen, Mississippi is retiring the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem — a symbol that’s widely condemned as racist.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday signed the historic bill that takes the 126-year-old state flag out of law, immediately removing official status for the banner that has been a source of division for generations.

“This is not a political moment to me but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together, to be reconciled, and to move on," Reeves said in a statement. “We are a resilient people defined by our hospitality. We are a people of great faith. Now, more than ever, we must lean on that faith, put our divisions behind us, and unite for a greater good.”

Mississippi has faced increasing pressure to change its flag since protests against racial injustice have focused attention on Confederate symbols.

A broad coalition of legislators on Sunday passed the landmark legislation to change the flag, capping a weekend of emotional debate and decades of effort by Black lawmakers and others who see the rebel emblem as a symbol of hatred.

The Confederate battle emblem has a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. White supremacist legislators put it on the upper-left corner of the Mississippi flag in 1894, as white people were squelching political power that African Americans had gained after the Civil War.

Critics have said for generations that it’s wrong for a state where 38% of the people are Black to have a flag marked by the Confederacy, particularly since the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have used the symbol to promote racist agendas.

Mississippi voters chose to keep the flag in a 2001 statewide election, with supporters saying they saw it as a symbol of Southern heritage. But since then, a growing number of cities and all the state’s public universities have abandoned it.

Several Black legislators, and a few white ones, kept pushing for years to change it. After a white gunman who had posed with the Confederate flag killed Black worshipers at a South Carolina church in 2015, Mississippi’s Republican speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, said his religious faith compelled him to say that Mississippi must purge the symbol from its flag.

The issue was still broadly considered too volatile for legislators to touch, until the police custody death of an African American man in Minneapolis, George Floyd, set off weeks of sustained protests against racial injustice, followed by calls to take down Confederate symbols.

A groundswell of young activists, college athletes and leaders from business, religion, education and sports called on Mississippi to make this change, finally providing the momentum for legislators to vote.

Before the governor signed the bill Tuesday, state employees raised and lowered several of the flags on a pole outside the Capitol. The secretary of state's office sells flags for $20 each. A spokeswoman for that office, Kendra James, said Tuesday there has been a recent increase in requests from people wanting to buy one.

During news conferences in recent weeks, Reeves had repeatedly refused to say whether he thought the Confederate-themed flag properly represents present-day Mississippi, sticking to a position he ran on last year, when he promised people that if the flag design was going to be reconsidered, it would be done in another statewide election.

Now, a commission will design a new flag, one that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will draft a different design using the same guidelines, to be sent to voters later.

Said Reeves in signing over the flag's demise, “We are all Mississippians and we must all come together. What better way to do that than include “In God We Trust” on our new state banner."

He added: “The people of Mississippi, black and white, and young and old, can be proud of a banner that puts our faith front and center. We can unite under it. We can move forward —together."

___

Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Vote to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property to help ‘heal racial divisions’

THE US House Armed Services Committee has voted to approve an amendment to ban the public display of the Confederate battle flag on all Pentagon property.

The move aims to heal decades of racial divisions in the US as many view the flag as a symbol of white supremacy and racism.

5 House panel votes to ban Confederate flag at Pentagon propertyCredit: Getty Images - Getty

On Wednesday, lawmakers approved the measure as part of the Committee’s debate over the annual defense authorization bill.

The amendment, introduced by Iraq War veteran Representative Anthony Brown, would ban the public display of the flag, including on bumper stickers and clothing, at all Defense Department property.

Exemptions are made for museums, state-approved license plates, and gravesites of Confederate soldiers.

“Recent, tragic events have underscored how much farther we have to go to heal the racial divisions that have plagued this country since our founding," Brown said in a statement

"Prohibiting the display of the Confederate flag - a symbol that for so many represents white supremacy, oppression and terror - on Department of Defense installations is an important step in that reckoning...the display of the Confederate flag and related racist symbols have no place in our military.”

5 "The display of the Confederate flag and related racist symbols have no place in our military," Representative Brown who introduced the amendment said on WednesdayCredit: AP:Associated Press

What's more, the House panel is expected to consider an amendment that would require the Pentagon to remove Confederate names from bases and other property within a year.

President Trump objected to the move and vowed to veto it if the Army includes such measure.

The President tweeted: “I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren (of all people!) Amendment, which will lead to the renaming (plus other bad things!) of Fort Bragg, Fort Robert E. Lee, and many other Military Bases from which we won Two World Wars, is in the Bill!”

Just hours ago, MississippiGovernor Tate Reeves has signed a bill into law to retire America's last state flag to feature the Confederate emblem

5 Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves gathers the pens he used in signing the bill retiring the last state flag in the United States with the Confederate battle emblemCredit: Getty - Pool 5 The Mississippi state flag, with the Confederate symbol, is seen here flying outside the Capitol in Jackson on ThursdayCredit: AP:Associated Press

On Tuesday, Tate Reeves signed the bill following a fast referendum from the state's Legislature, which passed the motion on Sunday.

The bill was the result of weeks of protests across the nation following the death of Black man George Floyd, who died in police custody.

A commission will develop a new flag design without the Confederate emblem that includes the phrase "In God, We Trust", and Mississippi voters will vote on the new design in November.

"This is not a political moment to me, but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together to be reconciled and to move on," Reeves said before he signed the legislation.

5 Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David BergerCredit: AP:Associated Press

Last month, the Marine Corps and Navy have issued detailed directives about banning the Confederate battle flag from all installations, ships, and aircraft.

General of the Marine Corps David Berger said in a statement that the ban on the flag is an effort to limit "offensive or divisive displays" in the military.

"It is time to act to exclude from our Corps public displays of the battle flag carried by the Confederate Army during the American Civil War," said David Berger, general of the US Marine Corps, in a statement released on Thursday.

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The Navy’s top admiral followed the Marine Corps’s ban a week after.

"The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, has directed his staff to begin crafting an order that would prohibit the Confederate battle flag from all public spaces and work areas aboard Navy installations, ships, aircraft and submarines," spokesman Commander Nate Christensen said in a statement obtained by CBS.
"The order is meant to ensure unit cohesion, preserve good order and discipline, and uphold the Navy's core values of honor, courage and commitment."

People have been ripping down statues of Confederate soldiers and calling for flags to be taken down across the United States while protesting racial injustice.

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