USM president says changing state flag a ‘historic’ first step

USM president says changing state flag a ‘historic’ first step
University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney Bennett applauded the state Legislature's decision to change the state flag, but said he hoped that the momentum going forward would continue to be positive and inclusive.

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi’s president said Sunday’s historic vote by the state Legislature to retire the state’s current flag provides an opportunity to move Mississippi forward,

“This is a time for each of us to listen to one another with empathy and civility, and to build on the foundation this decision lays for us to move forward, together,” USM President Rodney Bennett said in a statement released Sunday evening.

“If we do not, permanent positive change will continue to elude us, and we will only perpetuate the divisiveness of the past.”

The current flag, which features a Confederate battle emblem, has flown over the state for more than 120 years.

Saturday, both the state House and Senate approved “a suspension of the rules,” allowing Sunday’s debate and a vote on a bill that would “retire” the current flag offer a new design to voters.

The bill passed in the House on a 91-23 vote and in the Senate by a 37-14 margin.

“(Sunday) marks a historic time,” Bennett said in opening his statement, “as our state leaders approved a plan to retire the current Mississippi flag and begin a process to identify a new symbol to represent our state moving forward.”

The bill would create a committee to oversee the design of a new flag, which once completed, would be presented to Mississippi voters to approve or reject.

“I am excited about what this decision could mean as an opportunity to remove barriers to advancing our state’s growth and development at national and international levels,” Bennett said in his statement.

“This opportunity to reposition our state is certainly significant. In order to truly move forward, we must ensure that careful thought and consideration inform the next steps on this historic path to build a future that represents the Mississippi that we talk about, dream about, and hope our children will one day have the opportunity to experience.”

Bennett said that those steps will require everyone’s involvement.

“It is up to each of us, now, to take this opportunity to lead Mississippi toward a bright future. Each individual will be important in determining our level of success,” Bennett said. “This is a time for each of us to listen to one another with empathy and civility, and to build on the foundation this decision lays for us to move forward, together.

“If we do not, permanent positive change will continue to elude us, and we will only perpetuate the divisiveness of the past.”

Bennett said the new flag should be a banner that all citizens could rally around.

“I firmly believe that our state flag should unite, rather than divide, Mississippians,” Bennett said. “I continue to look forward to the day in which we raise a new flag as a symbol of a new and united Mississippi.”

Copyright 2020 WDAM. All rights reserved.