Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday ratified the new state flag, and Mississippi flew its new banner over the state Capitol for the first time, months after the state retired its decades-old flag that displayed a Confederate battle emblem.
The moment was historic for the southern state that had been the last in the nation whose flag featured the Confederate battle insignia, and emotional for advocates who fought for years to change it.
The new “In God We Trust” state flag, featuring a magnolia flower and stars, was approved by 73% of Mississippi voters in the November election.
“Today, we turn the page. We commit our former flag to history, and we commit ourselves to the business of the future. It is one small effort to unify, but it is done in good faith,” Reeves, a Republican, said in remarks prior to ratifying the new state flag.
“In Mississippi, there has been a prominent roadblock to unity. When many look at our former flag, they just saw a symbol of the state and heritage they loved. But many felt dismissed because of that flag. That is not a firm foundation for our state.”
Reeves and other Mississippi leaders later gathered on the steps of the state Capitol to watch their new state flag be hoisted ceremoniously above the seat of the state’s government.
It was a contrasting moment just days after a Confederate flag, a divisive symbol of slavery and white supremacy, had been carried in the halls of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, for the first time during last week’s insurrection.
In prayer Monday after the flag was raised, Reeves noted that it’s “a time of divisiveness in our country,” but added that “we are united in our state on a path forward.”
This past summer, the sentiment toward the old Mississippi flag appeared to shift amid racial reckoning over the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in Minneapolis police custody. Protests over Floyd’s death reignited the debate over the nation’s remaining Confederate monuments and symbols, including Mississippi’s state flag.
Amid the protests, Mississippi state lawmakers passed a historic referendum to retire and replace the flag with a new design that “shall honor the past while embracing the promise of the future.” The bill established a commission to select a new design that would exclude the Confederate battle emblem and include the phrase “In God We Trust.”
In September, the commission selected the magnolia flag as the design Mississippi voters would consider on the November ballot.
During the flag raising ceremony Monday, state House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican, spoke of what motivated some hesitant lawmakers to ultimately vote to change the flag.
“It was their families. It was knowing that history was going to record what they did and they did not want their spouses, or their children, or their grandchildren to be disappointed in them. They wanted their children and grandchildren to be proud of them, the future generations of this state to be proud of what they did,” he said.
The old Mississippi state flag, adopted in 1894, flew for the last time on July 1, before it was officially retired and brought to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
The new state flag features a magnolia flower, a symbol of hospitality, surrounded by 20 stars, signifying Mississippi’s status as the 20th state in the union, and a gold five-point star to reflect Mississippi’s indigenous Native American tribes.
CNN’s Kelly Mena and Kay Jones contributed to this report.