Lawmakers cite unity after changing flag East Mississippi legislators explain their votes

Bill Graham / The Meridian Star

The Mississippi state flag flies at the Lauderdale County courthouse on Monday. State lawmakers over the weekend voted to retire the flag, and Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to sign the bill into law this week.

In a history-making moment Sunday, Mississippi lawmakers voted to retire the state flag, clearing a path for a new flag without the Confederate battle emblem.

The Senate voted 37-14 and the House voted 91-23.

Mississippi voters rejected changing the flag in 2001, but support for a new flag among athletic, religious and business communities has grown in recent weeks.

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A broad coalition of lawmakers — Black and white, Democrat and Republican — supported the change.

Two of them represent East Mississippi, including Rep. Charles Young Jr. (D-District 82).

The vote was emotional for him.

“I hoped for it in my lifetime,” Young said Monday. “I didn’t expect it this year.”

Young

Young 

Young said the flag created obstacles for Mississippi athletes and institutions and represented discrimination and fear tactics.

“For some that have lived here in Mississippi, those hate and fear tactics were an acceptable part of their life,” Young said. “My family has bullet holes in our homes. We have blown-up or fire-bombed vehicles that are my memories.”

Rep. Michael Evans (I-District 45) said he supported the change because it was time to move on.

“This flag has been a dividing symbol of our state for many years,” Evans said. “I just voted what I thought the majority of people of my district wanted.”

Evans

Evans 

A commission will design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust” and voters will be asked to approve the new design in the Nov. 3 election. 

If they reject it, the commission will set a different design using the same guidelines, and that would be sent to voters later.

Rep. Steve Horne (R-District 81) is among five East Mississippi lawmakers who voted against a new flag.

Horne

Horne

“I feel sad that it happened,” Horne said Monday. “I appreciated the flag that we had and what it stood for, our Southern heritage.”

Rep. Billy Adam Calvert (R-District 83) also voted in opposition, saying he gave his word to the people that he would give them a voice on the issue.

“This is an issue I did not bring up in my campaign, but I was asked many times,” Calvert said. “History was made in our state, and it’s time to move forward and work together to create a better environment for all citizens.”

Calvert

Calvert

State Sen. Tyler McCaughn (R-District 31), who voted against changing the flag, said there was a strong possibility he would have cast a different vote from the ballot box.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I wasn’t conflicted,” McCaughn said. “I told the people they had a right to vote and I had to vote like I told and that’s why I voted no both times ... I believe that it’s time to unify behind something.”

McCaughn

McCaughn

State Sen. Jeff Tate (R - District 33) supported a resolution Saturday to allow a second vote to change the flag, but voted against changing the flag in the final vote Sunday.

He could not be reached Monday.

Rep. Troy Smith (R - District 84), who voted to keep the flag, could not be reached Monday.

Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to sign the bill into law in the next few days.

The flag will be retired within 15 days after that.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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