Philip Gunn, the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, said changing the state flag is an opportunity to find one that unifies Mississippians, Newsweek reports.
Legislators are expected to start voting on Sunday to change the 126-year-old state flag—which features a Confederate battle emblem that has long been decried as racist.
Defenders of Mississippi’s state flag have long resisted efforts to abandon it, but many have spoken out against it amid ongoing protests against racism sparked by the death of George Floyd across the U.S. in recent weeks.
Critics, including Mississippi-born singer Faith Hill, have urged legislators to ditch the flag that bears the charged symbol for one that better reflects the state’s diverse population.
The state House and Senate met on Saturday and took a huge step forward by voting to suspend legislative deadlines so a bill to redesign the flag could be introduced.
Gunn, a Republican who has publicly supported changing the flag for years, said that passing the resolution was the right thing to do, according to the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.
“Change is hard,” he said. “People are going to resist initially, but I think over time it’s going to be proven that this was the right decision. We’re poised to reach our full potential now.”
He added: “This is an opportunity for us to find a flag that’s unifying for all Mississippians, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The bill proposes that the current flag be immediately removed and a commission be set up to design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must feature the words “In God We Trust.” The new design would then be put to a public vote in November.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the flag bill into law if it passes this weekend.
“The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it. If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it,” he wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday.