Ole Miss Students Pound Last Nail Into Confederate Flag’s Coffin

Update: University of Southern Mississippi removed the state flag from campus earlier today.

On July 20, 2015 the Confederate battle flag was lowered from the statehouse grounds in Columbia, South Carolina following an order issued by Governor Nikki Haley. Regardless of which side you were on many believed that the move was purely political to help with her own national ambitions. Questions surrounding the governor’s motivation make it difficult to place the decision within a broader historical context that stretches back to 1962 when the Confederate flag was first raised atop the statehouse. On the other hand, the order this morning at the University of Mississippi to remove the state flag (which includes a Confederate flag in its design) from campus must be acknowledged as a crucial moment in that institution’s long and complex relationship with the flag.

According to historian John Coski the University of Mississippi adopted the flag “as an all-but-official school symbol” in the early 1950s and was embraced “with distinctly political undertones” coinciding with the rise of the Dixiecrat Party. The waving of Confederate flags, the singing of “Dixie” and the presence of the Colonel Reb mascot became staples of Ole Miss football games. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement the flag was picked up by students as their symbol of resistance against school integration.

The arrival of James Meredith to campus highlighted the important role the Confederate flag played as a popular symbol of white unity on campus. On the day that Meredith was believed to arrive on campus students sang “Glory, Glory, Segregation” to the tune of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” while another group of students lowered the American flag from the campus flagpole to make room for the Confederate flag. Student sentiment fell lock step in line with the rest of white Mississippi and much of the white South. There was no mistaking the flag’s meaning.

In the last few decades the University of Mississippi has taken significant steps to distance itself from its Confederate past by discontinuing the singing of “Dixie” and no longer featuring the Reb mascot at football games . The recent vote by faculty and students to remove the state flag follows that of three other state universities and a number of cities and towns that will no longer fly it on public ground. I wasn’t aware that so many communities had already taken steps to ban the flag or to call for its change, but that does not diminish the significance of this decision.

The stand taken by students at Ole Miss places their state-funded school in an interesting, if not difficult, relationship with their lawmakers in Jackson and a sizable percentage of residents who do not want to see the flag’s design changed. For now tax dollars will go to a school that refuses to be associated with its own state flag. It sits out there like a sore thumb. It should also not go unnoticed that the form of resistance at work here completes the circle. In the 1960s students embraced the flag as a symbol of resistance against change instituted by the federal government. Today we saw the result of the work of the children and grandchildren of that generation rejecting that very same symbol in resistance against their own state government.

Whatever resistance there is throughout the state, the student community in Oxford is pointing in no uncertain terms to what they see as their future. Regardless of whether state officials heed these calls, the game is over. It didn’t take another Northern invasion or a bunch of radicals to bring about this day. All it took was enough of Mississippi’s own to pound the last nail into the Confederate flag’s coffin.

We are getting to the point where enough people have spoken to declare that the display of the Confederate flag is not appropriate in any public space.

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7 comments… add one
  • H. S. Anderson Dec 4, 2015 @ 13:29

    Since the flag came down off the soldier’s memorial in Columbia, SC, I have seen more Confederate Battle Flags flying on vehicles and private residences than I’ve ever seen in my life. Most of the ones I’ve seen on vehicles are on vehicles driven by teenagers. A road near my house that I’ve traveled for years, and which never had a single flag on it now has seven. Anecdotal, I know, but I wouldn’t assume that any death knell has sounded here. People have simply been forced to pick sides, rather than accept the CFB as “the flag of the South” in a casual way, as we’d been able to do for decades.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 4, 2015 @ 13:40

      Thanks for the comment. My interest is not with the way in which individuals have responded, but with institutions such as schools, etc. That to me tells us much more about where communities are headed than whether the flag is being flown on the back of a pick-up truck or on the front lawn

  • Michael Williams Nov 5, 2015 @ 17:10

    Last nail??


    • Kevin Levin Nov 5, 2015 @ 17:22

      Yes. The students represent Mississippi’s future whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. The battle flag is losing ground everywhere.

      • Darin Nov 6, 2015 @ 9:42

        Since a couple of student ASB senators (namely, Allen Coon and Sierra Mannie, the sponsors of it) tried getting one who supported the state flag, Andrew Soper, impeached, around about 10 days or so before the vote, for daring to disagree with them. Screams more of passive-aggression that anything else. So far in the state of Mississippi, the current state flag is still having alot of support and the majority doesn’t want it changed at the moment. This is not a celebratory thing Mr. Levin.




        There was no transparency, the only transparency came from Soper, there was only open disrespect to the state for which the school represents, the voters of the state, and no morality twisting will ever change that.

        Because when a movement instead changes to defacing Confederate war memorials, removing “offensive” shows like the Dukes of Hazzard, targeting houses, picking fistfights and disrespecting state flags. I have no sympathy.

  • Patrick Jennings Oct 27, 2015 @ 3:37

    Interesting point Julian. I would argue that there is no societal “tectonic shift” as you describe it, rather an electronic shift in how people communicate – the internet. If you watch what is going on in Mississippi this is not a movement, rather a noisy minority (as opposed to the rise of equal rights which became a noisy majority and started off with a strong plurality) using the amplifying power of social media to increase their personal volume.

    I am impressed at how far so many communities have come across Mississippi (and other states) in how they think through this process. Still, and I readily admit I could be wrong here, I imagine that if it came to a popular vote in November, the vast majority would want to keep the state flag just how it is. A shame really, not because of the real or imagined bigotry, but because the old design is quite elegant.

  • Julian Oct 26, 2015 @ 23:08

    Kevin – I think that this site from where I post the link is a fairly right wing site – I have not explored it in detail or read from it before – but the titles of other articles and some of the points made herein this article suggest so, although what I think is interesting in relation to your recent threads is that arguments about flags are concurrently happening outside the South (or North) of the US for broadly the same reasons as the battleflag is under fire, which involve new and fairly heavy tectonic shifts in broadly accepted concepts of nation, identity and public visual culture. There are currently discussions about the national flag in both New Zealand and Australia, around the flags’ relationships to colonialism and histories of racial discrimination.


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