AS SOON as it was announced that the Mississippi Senate had voted 37 to 14 to remove a Confederate emblem from the state flag, applause broke out from people who had gathered in the state Capitol’s corridors and visitors’ galleries. “This was a long time coming,” said one NAACP volunteer — who had been involved in efforts to change the flag for two decades. No question the decision to jettison a symbol enshrining the fight to preserve slavery and its hateful legacy of segregation was way overdue. Still, it’s a moment to be celebrated.

Sunday’s vote by both chambers of the legislature — the House tally was 91 to 23 — retires the last state flag in the country to contain a clear and unmistakable symbol of the Confederacy. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said he will sign the bill, and a new standard will be designed for approval by voters. A flag that debuted in 1894 with red, white and blue stripes and the Confederate battle emblem in the corner will finally be gone.

The flag has long been a source of controversy — and pain to African American residents of the state who saw it as an enduring reminder of white supremacy, terror, lynching and exclusion. But efforts to get rid of it failed, notably in a 2001 referendum that lost by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. No one at the start of this year’s legislative session gave much chance to the campaign; the most optimistic view was for another referendum. But the political balance was upended by the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests against racial inequality.

Cascading public pressure from many sectors led to the change of heart of both the Republican-controlled legislature and the governor. Walmart stopped flying the flag at its stores. Country music star Faith Hill tweeted support for the change. The Mississippi Economic Council warned about a business backlash. The Southern Baptist Convention added its powerful voice. Most notably — considering how dear football is to the state — was the threat from the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference to deny Mississippi any championship events as long as the Confederate symbol remained on the flag. Kudos to them, to Mississippi State’s star running back Kylin Hill, who threatened to transfer if the flag were not changed, and to others who spoke up.

Removing symbols that hurt and inflame is important but of course not enough. Laws, attitudes and practices all need to change to address police brutality, vote suppression and economic inequality. That is why it is critical for people to get out and vote in November for candidates who will help lead the way.

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