After Americans in South Carolina banished the increasingly unpopular Confederate flag from their capitol grounds this summer, attention turned to Mississippi—the last state in the union to incorporate the racially divisive signage on its own state flag.
While the state government has yet to make a move, its main public university is now signaling decisive disdain for the flag that the South flew during the American Civil War: Students at the University of Mississippi don’t want the Mississippi state flag to fly on campus anymore.
The University of Mississippi, also known as “Ole Miss,” has long epitomized the racially charged history of America’s Deep South. The school’s sports teams are “the Rebels,” a nod to the Confederacy that began the Civil War, following divisions over slavery, in 1861. Riots broke out on campus when the first black student was admitted to the university in 1962. And as the Washington Post notes, other reminders of the pro-slavery movement are scattered throughout the campus: a Confederate cemetery, a Confederate soldier’s statue, a road called Confederate Drive.
Most galling to many, however, was the Mississippi state flag, which includes the Confederate battle flag in its design.
Ole Miss has incrementally tried to distance itself from these symbols; Confederate Drive was renamed in 2014, becoming the more innocuously named Chapel Lane. The Confederate flag has not been allowed on official university materials since the 1980s.
After rallies by competing advocacy groups on campus last week—the NAACP and the International Keystone Knights (a Ku Klux Klan affiliate) and the League of the South—the university’s student government voted on a non-binding resolution calling for the removal of the Mississippi state flag from campus.
I do not support a flag the KKK flies with white supremacy as their message, and who cry out "black lives don't matter" to a crowd of students trying to make a change on our campus. I do not support a flag used to symbolize the man who terrorized a South Carolina church, along with countless others acting violently out of racism. I do not support a flag with a history of oppression, slavery, violence, and hate. I do not support a flag that sends a message to the country that we actively exclude some of our Ole Miss community, leaving groups of people feeling confused, oppressed, and scared. I support the proposition to remove this flag, the Mississippi state flag, until the Confederate image is no longer a part of it and no longer seen on our campus. This flag, a symbol of negativity and an issue of controversy, does not belong at a university that claims to preach tolerance, acceptance, and diversity. Take it down, ASB. #finsupflagdown
In a vote last night (Oct. 20), the measure passed 35-15, with one abstention, and an amendment to “encourage the Mississippi legislature to hasten their pursuit of a new state flag.” (Mississippi held a referendum on a new state flag in 2001, at which time voters opted to keep the Confederate design.)
The university’s chancellor has to approve the change before it can go into effect. Three other universities in Mississippi do not fly the state’s flag on their grounds.