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BILL CRAWFORD — Bryant set stage for faith to supplant battle flag

BILL CRAWFORD

The Mississippi Legislature plowed new ground last week when members heroically voted to banish the Confederate battle flag from the state flag, uprooting a long-time symbolic vestige of our segregationist past.

The unexpected success resulted from a rare convergence of liberal, conservative, business, and religious groups who provided resources, strategic messaging, and influencers to get the job done.

Think about it. Just getting to consider the bill to replace the flag took a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules in the Mississippi House and Senate where conservative Republicans hold super-majorities. The key votes were 84 to 35 in the House and 36 to 14 in the Senate. The actual bill to change the flag passed 91 to 23 and 37 to 14.

It also took those two-thirds majority votes to get a reluctant Gov. Tate Reeves to agree to withhold a veto.

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, who called for a flag change in 2015 and authored the final bill, and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann played key roles. Other leaders and organizations outside government stepped up. Then, there was former Gov. Phil Bryant who set the stage for this momentous success.

The resolution to suspend the rules stated: “To provide that the design for the Mississippi state flag recommended by the commission shall not include the design of the confederate battle flag, but shall include the words ‘In God We Trust’.”

As far back as 2001 then State Auditor Bryant began to push “In God We Trust” into Mississippi’s public arena (see his interview on YallPolitics.com). In 2014 as governor he got it added to the state seal which he put as the center piece of the Bicentennial flag. In 2018 he approved putting the seal on Mississippi license plates. As Republican leaders began speaking out to change the flag, they also called for the replacement to be the “Seal” flag, a design featuring the state seal, rather than the popular “Stennis” or “Magnolia” flags.

Because of Bryant, the brilliant political move to propose swapping the battle flag for “In God We Trust” as the crux of the state flag was possible.

In Mississippi, faith still resonates more than other convictions. So, a flag proclaiming Mississippian’s abiding faith could overcome allegiance to one proclaiming a divisive heritage.

On Tuesday before the crucial votes were cast, as reported in Mississippi Today, Gunn and Hosemann met with leaders representing many faiths. Soon afterwards, the Mississippi Baptist Convention proclaimed support for a new flag. The Rev. Ligon Duncan, former senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson and now chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, called on legislators to “Vote to take down the flag and replace it with a symbol that unites us all.” Other pastors spread the word.

Days later enough votes changed to change history.

NOTE: The challenge, now, is for the new flag commission to come up with a design that properly displays the desired message. People should be able to easily see “In God We Trust” on readily identifiable and vivid flags hanging loosely in calm winds and behind podiums.

 “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity,” Psalm 133:1.

Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.

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