Ole Miss removes Confederate-themed state flag: Ripples beyond campus?

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ole Miss has lowered the Mississippi state flag for good.

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — The University of Mississippi quietly pulled down the state flag on Monday, deciding that the 121-year-old banner’s Confederate battle emblem sends a harmful message in this age of diversity. The Mississippi flag was taken down at the state’s public university Monday morning, after student leaders, faculty and staff called for its removal because of its prominent Confederate emblem. Acting under the order of Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks, three campus police officers furled the flag before most students were awake, taking it down from a circle of honor between the white-columned administration building and a marble statue of a saluting Confederate soldier. Broadly, the move at Ole Miss speaks to Americans’ “rapidly evolving moral and intellectual views of the South’s complicated past,” as the Monitor reported in June.

It was a dramatic change for a university long proud of its southern traditions and ties to the Confederacy, a school that closed down entirely during the Civil War when nearly all of its students enlisted, and one that was at the center of a seminal moment in the civil rights movement. A student-led resolution had been calling for the removal of the flag, and the removal finally came days after the student senate, the faculty senate, and other groups adopted the resolution. The resolution says the flag’s presence on campus “undermines efforts to promote diversity and create a safe, tolerant academic environment for all students.” While many other flags take inspiration from the Confederate flag, Mississippi’s is the only state flag that incorporates the Confederate emblem in its design. That is why the university faculty, staff and leadership have united behind this student-led initiative.” Ole Miss police officers lowered it as the campus opened, and folded it for storage in the archives along with the written resolutions from campus groups. But to others, the flag means that some members of the Ole Miss family are not welcomed or valued.” The flag became a lightning rod for controversy in June when a white gunman massacred nine black worshippers during bible study in Charleston, S.C.

Days earlier, the student and faculty senates voted to urge its removal from the Oxford campus, a bastion for Southern elites since its founding in 1848. A group of university leaders then met Sunday night and agreed to take it down. “Because the flag remains Mississippi’s official banner, this was a hard decision. The flag had flown for years in the Lyceum circle, where deadly white riots broke out in 1962, when James Meredith enrolled as the university’s first black student, under a federal court order and with the protection of U.S. marshals. Writing for The Christian Science Monitor a week after the Charleston massacre, Patrik Jonsson said that the Confederate legacy, once “set in stone” in the South, is now “up for debate like never before.” “Almost overnight, Americans are deeply questioning the role and permanence of state-sanctioned symbols of a past regime founded on white supremacy in a present multiethnic and pluralistic society,” writes Mr. A half-century later, federal forces were again keeping close watch on the Ku Klux Klan as a civil rights group’s Oct. 16 remove-the-flag rally proved to be the catalyst for change.

Two Klan members who protested Thursday’s faculty senate vote were arrested on state weapons charges after campus police found shotguns and a “Black Lives Don’t Matter” sign in their pickup truck, according to an FBI agent’s request to prosecute both men on federal weapons charges. In 1998, the university effectively prevented the Confederate battle flag from being waved at games by banning pointed objects of any kind in the school’s stadium and limiting the size of banners and signs. He wrote, “‘Sending these boys off to war it is like grinding the seed corn of the republic,’ “Sansing said. “We lost a generation of young men in that war.” When the school reopened in 1865, most of the students were Confederate veterans. As former Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat told AL.com in 2013: “Over time, people began to see that the benefit of not having that flag tied to our university, or vice versa, was far more valuable than the enjoyment that anybody received from waving that flag.” Today, the university’s sports teams are still called the Rebels, although the school in 2010 replaced the Colonel Reb mascot with a black bear. Today’s students forced this issue as the governor and most state lawmakers seek re-election on Nov. 3, and many politicians have avoided staking positions.

Given the history of our school – which we carry around like baggage – we’ve come a long way.” What impact the university’s action will have on the rest of the state depends in large part on how lawmakers, who are divided on the issue, respond, he adds. Phil Bryant has previously warned state lawmakers not to override a 2001 referendum in which residents overwhelmingly voted to keep the flag’s current design. Thad Cochran in 2014, and insisted that “Ole Miss should fly it, as long as they remain a publicly funded university.” “Universities are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas, not cocoons designed for coddling the feelings of the perpetually offended,” the tea party favorite posted Monday on his Facebook page. Yet Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn, a major Republican figure in the state, has taken a position against the flag, which he called “a point of offense that needs to be removed.”

Even today, there’s still a struggle over the team’s nickname, “Rebels,” and its ubiquitous nickname, “Ole Miss” (a name traditionally used by slaves to address a plantation owner’s wife). But, Ole Miss student, faculty and administrative leaders quickly endorsed its demotion after more than 200 people attended a remove-the-flag rally on Oct. 16 that was organized by the university’s NAACP chapter. “Mississippians overwhelmingly voted in 2001 to adopt the current Mississippi state flag. One student said, “‘What do you think is the difference between the students here today who gave you a standing ovation and those 10 years ago who threw rocks at you, hurled insults?’” Sansing recalled that Meredith responded, “‘There is no difference. Sports teams remain the Rebels, but the Colonel Rebel mascot was retired, and fans mostly stopped waving Confederate battle flags after sticks were banned in the stadium. Chancellor Dan Jones, who sought to make the campus more racially inclusive, was ousted in March, and many of his supporters suspected he was too liberal on race for the trustees, who are appointed by the governor.

At a rally in support of the flag’s removal earlier this month, Ole Miss students were confronted by people angry that the state’s history might be whitewashed, and by KKK members. The flag came down just ahead of Thursday’s campus visit by the board’s choice to replace Jones — University of Kansas Provost Jeffrey Vitter — who told the AP in an interview last week that he is committed to diversity, but offered no opinion on the flag. Athletic director Ross Bjork, who has said the flag makes recruiting more difficult, was among those who met with the interim chancellor during the weekend. “I’m just proud our university can take a stand like this.

I think it represents adequately our core values of what we want to be.” Jeff Amy and David Brandt reported from Oxford, and Emily Wagster Pettus reported from Jackson.

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