ABOVE PHOTO: Sunny Fowler speaks during a rally on Oct.18, by University of Mississippi students calling on the university to remove the Mississippi state flag from university grounds, in Oxford, Miss. Student senators at the university voted Tuesday night, Oct. 20, to ask the school administration to remove the Mississippi flag from campus because it contains a Confederate battle emblem that some say is an offensive reminder of slavery and segregation. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle via AP, File)
By Emily Wagster Pettus
JACKSON, MISS. — The University of Mississippi removed the state flag on its Oxford campus Monday morning because the banner contains the Confederate battle emblem, which some see as a painful reminder of slavery and segregation.
Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks ordered the flag lowered and said it was being sent to the university’s archives.
The action came days after the student senate, the faculty senate and other groups adopted a student-led resolution calling for removal of the banner from campus.
“As Mississippi’s flagship university, we have a deep love and respect for our state,” Stocks said in a statement Monday. “Because the flag remains Mississippi’s official banner, this was a hard decision. I understand the flag represents tradition and honor to some. But to others, the flag means that some members of the Ole Miss family are not welcomed or valued.”
Since 1894, the Mississippi flag has had the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner – a blue X with 13 white stars, over a field of red. Residents chose to keep the flag during a 2001 statewide vote.
However, the public display of Confederate symbols has been subject to heated debates since the June massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Police said the attack was racially motivated. The white man charged in the slayings had posed with a Confederate battle flag in photos posted online before the massacre.
More than 200 people joined a remove-the-flag rally Oct. 16 on the Oxford campus. It was sponsored by the university chapter of the NAACP.
The University of Mississippi has struggled with Old South symbolism for decades. In 1962, deadly riots broke out when James Meredith was enrolled as the first black student, under court order. Its administrators have tried to distance the school from Confederate symbols. Sports teams are still called the Rebels, but the university several years ago retired the Colonel Rebel mascot – a white-haired old man some thought resembled a plantation owner. The university also banned sticks in the football stadium nearly 20 years ago, which eliminated most Confederate battle flags that fans carried.
“The University of Mississippi community came to the realization years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others,” Stocks said in the statement Monday. “Since that time, we have become a stronger and better university. We join other leaders in our state who are calling for a change in the state flag.”
Several Mississippi cities and counties have stopped flying the state flag since the Charleston shootings. The state’s three historically black universities had stopped flying the flag earlier, and the state’s only black U.S. representative, Democrat Bennie Thompson, does not display the state flag in his offices because of the Confederate symbol.
But Mississippians remain divided on the flag’s future, and many politicians have been loathe to stake their own positions as the governor and most state lawmakers seek re-election Nov. 3. The speaker of the House has called for change, but his fellow Republican, Gov. Phil Bryant, said he wouldn’t call a special session this year to debate it, saying it’s a matter for Mississippians themselves to decide in another statewide election.
After last week’s student senate vote, Bryant said during a news conference in Hattiesburg: “I think college students react a lot emotionally.”
Bryant spokeswoman Nicole Webb said Monday she would seek a response from the governor about the flag’s removal.