Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) broke ranks on Monday and called for his state flag to be changed by removing the Confederate emblem that was approved by voters in 2001, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported.
"We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us," he said in a statement. "As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag."
Gunn's remarks came hours after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) called for the Confederate flag to be removed from her state's capitol. Criticism surrounding the flag was reignited after photos surfaced of terrorism suspect Dylann Roof posing with it prior to his shooting attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston last week, which resulted in the deaths of nine people. The flag was also shown on his car's license plate.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, an online petition has been posted calling for the emblem to be removed from the Mississippi flag, citing the Charleston attack. As of Monday night, the petition had amassed just under 5,500 signatures.
"It is time to remove all symbols of hate and from state and other government buildings," the petition stated. "It is time for us to come together and move into the future in solidarity."
As the Washington Post reported, Mississippi is the only US state currently using the Confederate flag as part of its overall flag design. Sixty-four percent of voters chose that design over one without Confederate iconography in a 2001 referendum.
Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said earlier in the day that he did not expect lawmakers to "supersede the will of the people on this issue."