The mayor of Laurel, Mississippi, fought back tears as he signed an executive order to remove the state's long-standing, divisive flag from all city-owned buildings. According to WLOX, Mayor Johnny Magee signed the order on Tuesday to remove the state flag, which features a Confederacy emblem.
The mayor was unable to speak for about a minute as he was overcome with emotion, The Laurel Leader Call reported.
"The current flag hovering above the State Capitol of the state of Mississippi was adopted as the state flag by the Mississippi Legislature in 1894 and the upper-left portion of this flag is often referred to as the Confederate battle flag,” Magee said during a press conference.
Signing the order, the mayor said the flag "shall not be flown at any of the public facilities." Shortly after the signing, the flag was removed from Laurel City Hall.
"There comes a point in time in the annals of history when it becomes necessary to redefine who a people are, and what a collection of these people represent," Magee said. "It is the opinion of the mayor of this city that now is such a time."
According to Newsweek, Magee has served as the city's mayor for eight years and is a native Mississippian.
"I don't apologize for being emotional," Magee said during the signing. "I have lived through some things with this flag and as they told Dr. King to wait — time for waiting is over."
As a lifelong Black resident of Mississippi, Magee has always looked at the flag as a reminder of the state's racist history.
“It has also been used by some as an image of hatred, divisiveness and violence, none of which in any way represents the ideals and principles of our great nation, our proud state, or our vibrant city,” the mayor said.
Magee said the removed flags will be donated to the local library or another agency that will take them. The mayor is also asking the state to remove the flag.
"Adopt a new flag that represents and signifies the values and principles upon which our state is now based, and which unifies the people who call our state home,” he said.
In an interview with Newsweek, the Black mayor said he was thinking about the challenges he had to endure while growing up in Laurel.
"I was born here in Laurel, I grew up here in Laurel, went to school here, and all the time of my growing up here, there was this flag and there was this attitude," Magee said. "And so, when I was doing the executive order, all these thoughts and all these feelings just came rushing back and I began to reminisce about some of the things I endured here in Laurel and I had gone from that position to be in a position of the mayor, to be able to take that flag down and I wanted to do it to bring the people of Laurel together."
The Laurel native said he had been wanting the flag to be changed since the early 1970s when schools were integrated.
"We had a Black high school that was closed and we had to go to the all-white high school and trucks were riding around the parking lot with [Confederate] flags in the back and I knew then that I wanted a change," he said.
According to MSNBC, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said he will sign a bill to change the state flag if the Legislature votes to remove the Confederacy emblem.
Mississippi moved closer to taking the next step when the House and Senate voted with a two-thirds majority on Saturday to file a bill to change the flag, ABC News reported.
“I would never have thought that I would see the flag come down in my lifetime,” Democratic Sen. Barbara Blackmon told ABC News.
Mississippi is the only state which features a Confederate battle emblem on its flag.