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Mississippi no longer has a state flag, after lawmakers voted Sunday to remove the Confederate symbol, making it the final state in the U.S. to do so.
Moments after the vote, an employee at the state capital lowered the state flag featuring the Confederate battle emblem for the final time, after it had flown over the building for 126 years.
The state will now be without a flag for the next five months. In that time, a nine-person commission will be appointed to develop a new design, and Mississippians will decide to approve or reject the design in a November 2020 vote.
Many lawmakers were seen crying after the bill to remove the racist symbol from the flag was approved, and supporters were heard cheering.
One of those choking back tears was Democratic Rep. Robert Johnson, who told reporters after the vote that he has seen white colleagues develop a deeper understanding that the Confederate symbol is painful to him and other African Americans.
“They began to understand and feel the same thing that I’ve been feeling for 61 years of my life,” Johnson said.
The flag has long been a source of contention in Mississippi, but in 2001, Mississippians voted by nearly 2-to-1 to keep the divisive emblem on the state flag.
But the debate was reignited in Mississippi because of Black Lives Matter protests that have swept across the nation in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who was killed when a former police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate by 91-to-23 and 37-to-14 respectively. The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves who has already indicated he will sign it.
“We are better today than we were yesterday,” Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, a Republican, who authored the bill that passed Sunday, said. “Today, the future has taken root in the present. Today, we and the rest of the nation can look on our state with new eyes, with pride and hope. We are not betraying our heritage. We are fulfilling it.”
Cover: Sen. Briggs Hopson, left, R-Vicksburg, is hugged by Sen. Robert Johnson, D-Marks, after the Senate voted to change the state flag, Sunday, June 28, 2020, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)