In Mississippi, both politicians and public figures are making statements for and against changing the state flag, some claiming that it's an issue that voters already addressed in a 2001 referendum. Photo courtesy Flickr/Stuart Seeger
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two more Mississippi universities have stopped flying the state's flag, which prominently features the Confederate battle emblem.
Mississippi State University and the Mississippi University for Women confirmed Tuesday that they had taken down the state's flag from outdoor flagpoles over the summer. The universities' actions came after state lawmakers failed to act on changing the flag this year.
"The university community supports a flag that unites everyone in the state behind it," said Jim Borsig, president of the Mississippi University for Women.
Since July 2015, JFP readers have submitted designs for a new Mississippi Flag.
Delta State University is the only public Mississippi university still flying the flag. A statement from that school Tuesday opened the door to removing it if the university cabinet votes to do so.
The changes at both schools came quietly while many students and faculty were away. MSU spokesman Sid Salter said Tuesday that President Mark Keenum approved campus leaders' plans to remove the flag from four locations on the Starkville campus in June and July. Salter said the state flags have been replaced with larger American flags, to mirror the large American flag that has flown alone in MSU's central quad for at least 15 years. He said 21,000-student MSU removed Mississippi flags from athletic arenas "several" years ago.
Borsig said 2,700-student MUW was expanding a driveway near an auditorium where the only state flag stood. Borsig said he acted after campus groups discussed the flag last year and he encouraged them to lobby elected officials. He also cited the 50th anniversary of the university's integration and Mississippi's 2017 bicentennial.
Mississippi flag opponents welcomed its removal.
"It was important to us to take it down because it just reminded us of the Civil War and people who wanted to keep us slaves," said Deborah Frazier, president of the Mississippi State campus branch of the NAACP. "Now it doesn't remind us daily when we see the flag of that oppression."
The Jackson Free Press revealed to the world in February 2016 that Gov. Bryant had declared April "Confederate Heritage Month," but with no mention of slavery.
Frazier, a junior English major from Benton, was among a group of students who protested the flag and other issues in front of Keenum's office in April after he told students he didn't intend to remove it.
"Taking the state flag down arbitrarily is a symbolic gesture that accomplishes nothing toward actually changing the state flag to something that everyone can support and feel good about," Keenum said then.
Salter said Tuesday that Keenum "has been outspoken in expressing his heartfelt personal support for flag change and has maintained an open dialogue with those representing diverse points of view on the question of the state flag." Salter said individual deans have "flexibility" in seeking changes to their academic units.
Salter said Mississippi's flag remains part of a display of the flags of all 50 states and other nations in the university's main cafeteria.
In a 2001 referendum, Mississippi voters strongly supported keeping the flag, which has included the Confederate battle emblem in its upper left corner since 1894. But agitation against the flag resumed following the 2015 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The white suspect in that case had posed for online photos with Confederate flags.
The University of Mississippi, MSU's archrival, lowered the Mississippi flag in October. The University of Southern Mississippi also removed state flags last year and three historically black universities removed them earlier. Some local governments and K-12 schools also no longer fly Mississippi's state flag. Some state lawmakers introduced unsuccessful bills in 2016 to force governments, schools, community colleges and universities to display the flag.
Delta State spokeswoman Jennifer Farish said that 3,500-student university would remove the flag if President Bill LaForge's cabinet, which includes faculty, staff and student members, votes to do so.
"Delta State continues to fly the State flag out of respect to our relationship with the State of Mississippi, and despite our disagreement with symbols that cause an unfortunate barrier to understanding," Farish said.
Read more about the Mississippi flag debate here.