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Mississippi Black Lawmaker On Taking Down The Flag: A Symbol Of 'Hate And Not Love'

Two Mississippi state flags wave outside the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., in 2019. State lawmakers voted to retire the current flag, and Mississippi GOP Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to sign the measure.
Rogelio V. Solis
Two Mississippi state flags wave outside the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., in 2019. State lawmakers voted to retire the current flag, and Mississippi GOP Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to sign the measure.

Mississippi plans to fly a new state flag — a flag without the Confederate battle emblem in the corner. The state House and Senate voted Sunday to retire the current flag, and Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to sign the measure.

Democratic state Sen. Derrick Simmons voted for the bill, which calls for a nine-member commission to design a new flag that includes the phrase "In God We Trust."

As an African American growing up and working in Mississippi, Simmons says the flag represents "hate and not love." It has flown since 1894.

"It was a very hateful oppressive and divisive symbol," he tells Morning Edition.

"Let's take this flag down," he says, "but let's also address all the other issues that we face in Mississippi." The poverty rate of Black Mississippians is among the highest in the country and African Americans in the state have been especially hard-hit by the coronavirus.

The vote comes as Americans across the country for weeks have been protesting against racial injustice and rejecting racist symbols, including statues.

The governor's communications director, Renae Eze, tells NPR that Reeves plans to sign the bill in the coming days. "The Governor does not want to rush this moment in history for our state," Eze writes in an email."Once he's had the opportunity to review it, Governor Reeves will sign the bill in the coming days."

Here are excerpts of the Morning Edition conversation with Simmons.

What arguments would you make when people would say the flag was a symbol of heritage?

I'd say it was a symbol of hate and not love. And it was a symbol of division and not unity. And I made it clear to people that it certainly was a flag that represented some Mississippians and not all.

What would go through your mind when you'd see that flag?

The flag was in the schools that I was educated in. The flag was flying in the businesses that I would frequent. The flag was actually flying in public spaces. For the entire eight years of my legislative career, I've had to walk into the Capitol and not only see the flag outside the Capitol but every morning we would do invocation and we would do a prayer and behind us we'd have the American flag and unfortunately, the Confederate flag.

Why do you think it's changing now?

There is a combination of issues. Certainly what is going on nationally is the impetus. You have people wanting to address the inevitable: the racial inequality in America. These systems have basically been at the underlining conditions of a lot of the problems that we are seeing. In Mississippi, of course, while the flag was just a symbol, the symbol is still like a symptom of the overall racial inequality that exists specifically in Mississippi.

And so I hope that this momentum continues in the state of Mississippi and this is just the start of a new chapter in Mississippi so that we can have a more bright, progressive and inclusive Mississippi.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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