By Sheryl Estrada
Mississippi is the only state that includes the Confederate battle emblem as part of its flag. And the University of Mississippi and University of Southern Mississippi are the latest schools to take down their state flags on campus.
The University of Mississippi took down the state flag from its Oxford campus Oct. 26, supporting the votes of the university’s student senate. The flag will be preserved in the university archives, along with the resolutions calling for its removal.
“Because the flag remains Mississippi’s official banner, this was a hard decision,” Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks said in a statement. “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.”
In a Facebook posting, State Sen. Chris McDaniel chastised the students who pushed for the flag’s removal:
So, the Ole Miss student association, filled with the passion and poison of a liberal administration, passes a resolution to remove state flag from campus and to ask the state legislature to change it??? No, I don’t think so. The people have already spoken.
The university, which is also called “Ole Miss” (a term slaves used to refer to the wife of a plantation owner), has not allowed the battle flag at football games or to be sold on campus since the late ‘90s:
“We decided we had to disassociate ourselves from the flag,” said former Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat in an interview in 2013. “By the end of that year, from 1997 to 1998, we went from a stadium full of flags to a stadium with no flags. And we did that by adopting a rule that you could not bring a pointed object into the stadium.”
After banning the Confederate flag, the university later retired the Colonel Reb mascot.
Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett ordered the state flag taken down on all campuses on Wednesday.
“While I love the state of Mississippi, there is passionate disagreement about the current state flag on our campuses and in our communities,” Bennett wrote in an email to students.
“I am looking forward to a time when this debate is resolved and USM raises a state flag that unites us.”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a graduate of Southern Miss, disagreed with its removal.
“Mississippians overwhelmingly voted in 2001 to adopt the current Mississippi state flag,” said Bryant in a statement. “I believe publicly funded institutions should respect the law as it is written today. It clearly states ‘The state flag shall receive all the respect and ceremonious etiquette given the American flag.’”
McDaniel and Bryant are referring to a 2001 statewide referendum. Mississippi voters decided by a 2-1 margin to keep the state flag design created in 1894. The proposed new design did not include any homage to the Civil War relic.
“The main reasons cited by supporters of the old flag were its place in Mississippi history and pride in their Southern heritage,” according to the New York Times. “Several counties in the predominantly Black Delta area voted heavily for the new design, while suburban counties and those in white rural areas provided the solid majority against it.”
The state flag has already been removed from the campuses of Alcorn State University, Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University.
The murder of nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., by Dylann Roof on June 17 created a public outcry for its removal from statehouse grounds after photos surfaced of Roof using the relic to perpetuate his ideology of hate. The flag came down on July 10.
The debate then extended to Southern states, which still incorporate Confederate symbols in government. Prominent Mississippi leaders have been urging the state to remove the Confederate emblem.
On June 26, while giving the eulogy at the funeral of State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel A.M.E. who was killed in the massacre, President Obama discussed the Confederate battle flag.
“For many, Black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation,” he said. “We see that now.”