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Mississippi appears to have enough votes to change state flag, senior lawmaker says

A vote is likely Saturday on a proposal in the Mississippi State Legislature to remove the flag's Confederate emblem.
Image: state flag, LSU v Mississippi
A fan waves a Mississippi state flag during a game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at the University of Mississippi on Oct. 21, 2017.Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images file

Mississippi lawmakers who want to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state's flag appear to have enough votes in the state Legislature to make the change, a senior state lawmaker said Friday.

State Rep. Robert Johnson III, the Democratic leader of the state House of Representatives, told NBC News that all the needed votes “appear to be there."

A vote on the measure is likely on Saturday.

Mississippi is the last state in the nation whose flag features the Confederate emblem.

“Supporters of a flag change worked through the night to secure the remaining votes necessary for a successful vote to change the state flag," Johnson said. "The votes to make that change are there in the House and appear to be there in the Senate. There very well may be a first step taken today in the House by passing a rules suspension to take up a bill to remove the current state flag."

Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican who has opposed changing the flag through the legislature, acknowledged Thursday in a Facebook post that vetoing such legislation would be “pointless.”

The governor has long said any action on changing the state flag should happen through a vote of the people. In 2001, Mississippi voters were given a chance to change the flag through a public referendum, and 64 percent chose not to.

The current flag was first adopted in 1894 and features red, white and blue stripes with the Confederate battle emblem in the corner. Proposals to change the flag have repeatedly come up in the statehouse, but have always died.

Mississippi's state legislature has felt increasing pressure to change the flag as Confederate monuments are being removed around the country amid nationwide protests sparked by George Floyd's death.

Among those taking a stance is retailing behemoth Walmart, which has announced it will "remove the Mississippi state flag from display in its current form from our stores,” Reuters reported.

The Mississippi Baptist Convention, with over 500,000 members at more than 2,100 churches, said state lawmakers have a moral obligation to remove the Confederate emblem because it has “hurt and shamed” many people, according to Reuters.

Mississippi House of Representatives Speaker Philip Gunn, a supporter of the bill, said Friday that "at this point we are just counting our votes trying to see where we are."

"This would also depend on where the Senate is – this isn’t something the Mississippi House of Representatives can pass on its own," he said. "It would require the Mississippi Senate passing anything we voted on as well.”

The mayor of Jackson, the state's largest city, told NBC affiliate WLBT that he has long supported a change to the state's flag.

“If you personally have an affiliation for the flag, then I don’t care whether you fly it in your own home, but don’t fly it over my children,” said Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who is Black.

Country singer and Mississippi native Faith Hill tweeted Thursday that the flag is a "direct symbol of terror for our black brothers and sisters."

"I urge the Mississippi legislature to vote tomorrow Friday, June 26 on ONE NEW FLAG, one that represents ALL of the citizens of Mississippi," she wrote in a series of tweets.

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said a new flag would help future generations.

“In my mind, our flag should bear the Seal of the Great State of Mississippi and state ‘In God We Trust,’” Hosemann said. “ I am open to bringing all citizens together to determine a banner for our future.”