STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Mississippi plans to fly a new state flag, a flag without the Confederate battle emblem.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: By a vote of 37 to 14, the bill passes.
INSKEEP: The state Senate voted on Sunday to retire the current 126-year-old flag. Mississippi's Republican governor, Tate Reeves, has said he will sign the measure that calls for a commission to design a new flag. Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons is among the lawmakers who voted for the change, and he's on the line. Senator, good morning.
DERRICK SIMMONS: Good morning, Steve. Thank you for having me.
INSKEEP: I just want to note, I'm doing the math here. So this is a flag from 1894, I guess, more than a generation after the Civil War. But it is a kind of combination of the two main Confederate flags from that war. Was there ever any doubt in your mind about what that flag stood for?
SIMMONS: It was never any doubt in my mind. It was a very hateful, oppressive and divisive symbol. And after 126 years of flying that flag in the state of Mississippi, Mississippi will soon have a new flag.
INSKEEP: I don't mean to recount the arguments you must have had all your life about this flag, but what did you say when people would push back and say, oh, no, this is just a symbol of our heritage?
SIMMONS: I said it was a symbol of hate and not love. And it was a symbol of division and not unity. And I made it clear to people that it certainly was a flag that represented some Mississippians, and not all. And so I had my own personal experiences regarding discrimination and had my father and grandfather that shared many of their experiences, and how the flag was just a constant reminder that communities of color or Black Americans in Mississippi was just still not part of Mississippi.
INSKEEP: What do you mean by a constant reminder? Would you be driving somewhere and see that flag? And what would go through your mind?
SIMMONS: Yes. Actually, the flag was in the schools that I was educated in. The flag was flying in the businesses that I would frequent. The flag was actually flying in public spaces. For the entire eight years of my legislative career, I've had to walk into the Capitol and not only see the flag outside of the Capitol, but every morning, we would do invocation. And we would do a prayer. And behind us, we'll have the American flag and, unfortunately, that Confederate flag.
INSKEEP: Why do you think that this has changed now?
SIMMONS: There is a combination of issues, Steve. Certainly, what is going on nationally is the impetus. You have people wanting to address the inevitable, the racial inequality in America. These systems have basically been at the underlining conditions of a lot of the problems that we are seeing in Mississippi, of course. While the flag was just a symbol, the symbol is still like a symptom of the overall racial inequality that exists specifically in Mississippi.
And so I mean, I hope that this momentum continues in the state of Mississippi and this is just the start of a new chapter in Mississippi so that we can have a more bright, progressive and inclusive Mississippi. So let's take this flag down. But let's also address all the other issues that we face in Mississippi.
INSKEEP: State Senator Derrick Simmons of Mississippi. Thank you very much, sir.
SIMMONS: Thank you, Steve.
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