The University of Mississippi took down the state flag at the Oxford campus on Monday, days after students and faculty called for removal of the banner — which displays the Confederate battle emblem.
Several cities and counties and three historically black colleges in the state also do not fly it.
NPR’s Debbie Elliott reports that Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks ordered the Mississippi flag removed to the university’s archives. In a statement, Stocks explained the reason for the decision:
“As Mississippi’s flagship university, we have a deep love and respect for our state. 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.”
There has been a broader reckoning in the South about the Confederate emblem since a June massacre in South Carolina in which a 21-year-old white man is accused of gunning down nine African-Americans at a Charleston church. The suspect posed with the Confederate flag in photographs prior to the attack. Officials said the killings were racially motivated. South Carolina stopped flying the Confederate battle flag on its Statehouse grounds in July.
Mississippi is the only state that incorporates the Confederate symbol as part of its flag. In a 2001 referendum, voters decisively rejected changing the banner. Despite a recent push to retire the flag, The Associated Press reports that some lawmakers have skirted away from staking out positions in the run-up to Nov. 3 elections.
The University of Mississippi’s history is intertwined with the symbolism of the Old South. Its nickname — Ole Miss — is a reference to the name slaves often used to refer to the wife of plantation owners. The university’s old mascot was a bearded plantation owner called Colonel Rebel. Until 2009, the school band would play the Southern anthem “Dixie” at football games.
The university’s move away from the Confederate emblem raised the ire of some Mississippi lawmakers. State Sen.Chris McDaniel, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in a Republican primary last year, chided the students who had pushed for the banner’s removal.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant also was critical. “I think college students react a lot emotionally,” he said after the student senate vote.