By Emily Wagster Pettus Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. — The chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will help design a new Mississippi state flag that does not include the Confederate battle emblem.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves announced Friday that he is appointing Chief Cyrus Ben and two other people to a nine-member flag commission.
Mississippi legislators voted in late June to retire the last state flag in the U.S. with the rebel emblem that's widely condemned racist. The change came after national protests over racial injustice sparked new debates about the public display of Confederate symbols.
The commission must design a new Mississippi flag that cannot include the Confederate emblem and must have the phrase, “In God We Trust.”
Commissioners were supposed to be appointed by July 15, but Reeves said he missed the deadline because he has been busy with response to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to Ben, the appointees Reeves announced Friday are Betsey Hamilton of New Albany and Frank Bordeaux of Gulfport.
Hamilton is a retired public school teacher, real estate broker and appraiser. She is on the Union County Heritage Museum board of directors and was a founding board member for the Union County Historical Society.
Bordeaux is an insurance company vice president. On the day Reeves signed the bill to retire the flag, Bordeaux posted a photo of the signing ceremony and wrote: “Proud of Governor Reeves!” In response, some people commented that changing the flag was for “traitors” or “dictatorships.”
Mississippi's population is about 59% white and 38% African American. The commission has six members who are white, two who are Black and one who is Native American.
Six commissioners appointed by the House speaker and the lieutenant governor held their first meeting Wednesday. They are collecting flag proposals from the general public until early August and will set a design by early September.
The lone design will go on the Nov. 3 ballot. If a majority of voters say yes, that design will become the new flag. If voters reject it, the commission will draw a new design and that will go on the ballot later.
Legislators filed bills for years to change the flag, but those died because leaders said they couldn’t get consensus for change. Momentum changed dramatically in June. Young activists and older leaders from business, religion, education and sports urged legislators to ditch a symbol that many said portrayed Mississippi as backward.