Furling Mississippi's Flag at Ole Miss

The school is the latest Southern institution to dissociate itself from the symbolism of the Confederate battle flag.

Joseph Sohm / Visions of America / Corbis

The University of Mississippi has stopped flying the state’s flag on its Oxford campus because the flag bears the Confederate battle emblem.

Campus police officers lowered the furled the flag at a ceremony Monday. The flag will be preserved in the University Archives along with resolutions from students, faculty, and staff calling for its removal, the university said in a statement.

“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,” Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks said. “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.”

The school is the latest Southern institution to dissociate itself from the symbolism of the Confederate battle flag. Critics of the emblem call it a reminder of slavery and segregation. Its supporters say it’s about culture and pride.

But as my colleague Tyler Bishop pointed out last week, the most common defense of the Confederate flag—that it’s about “heritage, not hate”—doesn’t “recognize all the rich and varied aspects of Southern heritage that the flag fails to represent. It seems that others see it that way, too.”

Tyler added:

[O]n Tuesday, 33 senators in Ole Miss’s student government outvoted 15 of their peers to pass a measure that favors the removal of the state flag—which includes a version of the Confederate flag in its design—from school grounds. University faculty and administrators would also have to move to finalize the maneuver, but should it succeed, it could bolster other efforts to change the design of the state flag altogether.

Stocks, in the university’s statement, noted the decision to no longer fly the state flag was not easy.

“Because the flag remains Mississippi’s official banner, this was a hard decision,” he said. “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. That is why the university faculty, staff and leadership have united behind this student-led initiative.”

He urged state leaders to create a new flag for Mississippi. Mississippi’s state flag was adopted in 1894. The state’s voters, in a 2001 election, chose to keep it.

The current debate over the flag began after a gunman opened fire inside a historic black church, in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, killing nine people. It was subsequently revealed the gunman, Dylann Roof, harbored racist views and was seen in an old photograph holding the Confederate battle flag.

The Associated Press adds:

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.

The state flag has been a sticky topic during this election year in Mississippi, with the governor and most lawmakers seeking re-election Nov. 3. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said he won’t call lawmakers into special session this year to debate changing the flag. He said if the design is to be reconsidered, he thinks it should be done by another statewide election.