Mississippi formally began the process to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag Saturday.
The state House and Senate voted to suspend legislative deadlines and file a bill to change the flag amid intense criticism and weeks of pressure during protests over racial injustices.
Observers at the Mississippi Capitol roared in applause as the actions were taken, with debate on a bill to begin as soon as Sunday.
“Today, you — Mississippi — have a date with destiny,” Sen. Briggs Hopson declared.
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Jason White in the House said, “The eyes of the state, the nation and indeed the world are on this House.”
Demonstrators have flooded the streets of American cities over the last month in protest of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, with many in the South challenging the continued use of Confederate imagery, including the rebel flag and monuments.
Mississippi is the last state to include the Confederate emblem — a red field crossed with a blue X dotted with 13 white stars — in its flag.
The flag has been controversial among residents for decades but, after recent demonstrations, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Saturday that he would sign legislation to change the flag if the Republican-controlled Legislature passes a bill.
“The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself, and it’s time to end it,” Reeves said.
The governor had previously taken a less-firm stance on the topic, saying only that he wouldn’t veto a bill if it came before him.
A bill would remove the current Mississippi flag from state law. A commission would then be tasked with designing a new flag without the Confederate battle emblem — though it must have the phrase “In God We Trust.”
The new design would be put on the ballot Nov. 3 and would become the official state flag if a majority of voters approve of the design.
If a majority vote against the new flag, the commission will go back to the drawing board to design a new emblem under the same criteria.
“I know there are many good people who … believe that this flag is a symbol of our Southern pride and heritage,” said White, the Republican speaker pro tempore of the House.
“But for most people throughout our nation and the world, they see that flag and think that it stands for hatred and oppression.”
Democratic lawmakers celebrate a day some thought they’d never see.
“I would never have thought that I would see the flag come down in my lifetime,” said Democratic Sen. Barbara Blackmon.