BILOXI, Miss. -- Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill Tuesday that will retire the Mississippi state flag with the Confederate emblem after 126 years.
It was a historic moment for the state and a dramatic change for Reeves, who on Saturday announced he would sign a bill that received veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate on Sunday.
People could be heard cheering outside the signing ceremony, and there was loud applause in the room after Reeves announced the bill had become law.
"Over the last several weeks, I have repeatedly heard it said that we must have change because the eyes of the nation were on Mississippi. Frankly, I'm not all that concerned about the eyes of the nation," Reeves said. "I do care, however, about looking in the eyes of every one of my neighbors and making sure they know that their state recognizes the equal dignity and honor they possess as a child of the South, a child of Mississippi, and yes -- as a child of an Almighty God."
For years, Reeves had said the state flag should only be changed through a vote by all Mississippians. He recently pledged that he would stick to the position he held during last year's campaign for governor, saying that a removal of the flag by the Legislature would "seriously, seriously upset Mississippians. And quite justifiably so."
"I've long believed the better path towards reconciliation for our state would be for the people to retire this symbol on their own at the ballot box," Reeves said Tuesday. "And I believe we would have eventually chosen that outcome -- a deliberate consensus by a thoughtful people.
"I am not a man who likes to change his mind. But through prison riots, Easter tornadoes, a pandemic the likes of which we haven't seen in over 100 years, and now this flag fight, all in just a few months, I have taken to replacing sleeping with praying."
Reeves said he ultimately changed his behind because he feared more division would hinder the state's efforts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and deal with economic struggles.
"Last week, as the Legislature deadlocked, the fight intensified, and I looked down the barrel of months of more division -- I knew that our path forward was to end this battle now," he said.
The state flag that features the Confederate emblem was officially adopted by Mississippi voters in 2001, rejecting a new design with over 64.39% of the vote.