On Monday, University of Mississippi Police Department officers took down the state flag, yielding to those who argued that the standard’s Confederate battle flag in one corner made it unfit to display. The flag was furled and saved in the university’s archives.
Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks, lauding the decision to remove the state flag, intoned, “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. 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 university’s decision was prompted by an October 20 vote by the student senate to remove the flag; the faculty senate, the graduate student council, and the staff council soon echoed that sentiment. Stocks praised the collegiality of the discussion, stating, “Their respect for each other, despite genuine differences of opinion, was an inspiration to us all.”
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. That is why the university faculty, staff and leadership have united behind this student-led initiative. Mississippi and its people are known far and wide for hospitality and a warm and welcoming culture. But our state flag does not communicate those values. Our state needs a flag that speaks to who we are. It should represent the wonderful attributes about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us.
Both University of Mississippi football coach Hugh Freeze and Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen signed a letter in August that stated, “It is simply not fair, or honorable, to ask black Mississippians to attend schools, compete in athletic events, work in the public sector, serve in the National Guard, and go about their normal lives with a state flag that glorifies a war fought to keep their ancestors enslaved. It’s time for Mississippi to fly a flag for all its people.”
Freeze had said publicly, “I’m a Mississippian. No one understands the pride of the people and the heritage of that state any better than I do. While I’m not a political figure, that symbol [the Confederate flag] has been hijacked by groups that have meant ill will toward other people. I think it’s time we move in a different direction with the state flag.”
Some critics of the school and the South wish to kill not just the flag, but both the “Ole Miss” and “Rebels” parts of the sports teams’ names as well. Freeze appeared open to a discussion on the nickname this summer. “We could get into the name of the Rebels and everything, and if that’s something that is troublesome to others, I’m sure that we would address that,” he told a reporter. “But I haven’t heard that.”
The school has been jettisoning any connection with the Confederacy for years. In 1997 it banned Confederate flags from its football games. In 2003 it eliminated its mascot, Colonel Reb, who looked like Col. Sanders from Kentucky Fried Chicken. The school also banned the school band from playing the song “From Dixie With Love.”
The NCAA bars Mississippi from holding any NCAA championships, as the collegiate athletics governing body refuses to schedule any championship games in states whose flag contains the Confederate battle flag.