On October 20, 2015, the Associated Student Body at the University of Mississippi voted to remove the Mississippi state flag from campus. Students who voted to remove the flag, which bears within it a symbol of the Confederacy, argued that it was degrading to the student body — especially the many African Americans who call UM home. Deep South Voice reached out to three black students at the university for their reflections.
Down Goes Dixieland
by Tysianna Marino
NAACP Vice President at the University of Mississippi
While the opinions of white students and alumni are often broadcast loudly — “heritage, not hate” is a common refrain —, we must consider that at a university with as much historical and ongoing racial complexity as Ole Miss, the lived experiences of black students on campus deserve close consideration. They, like the student leaders who stood by them are, after all, the future of not just the university, but the state of Mississippi.
At the core of my heart, I believe that the University of Mississippi is an extraordinary school, rooted in fundamental principles of inclusion, respect, and fairness. However, the current flag of the state of Mississippi is the antithesis to those principles. It glorifies racial oppression and honors an unjust war. In choosing to fly the state flag on campus grounds, the University condones the behaviors and beliefs of those who pioneered the Civil War.
At the University of Mississippi, on October 20th, 2015, 33 members of the Associated Student Body (ASB) decided to do something historical and brave. They chose to demonstrate what it means to value diversity and empathize with the feelings of a minority. Some put their personal beliefs aside and represented their constituents. They voted to remove the Mississippi state flag from our campus.
They relegated the state’s flag to history, with respect, but in recognition that it is time to move forward. That flag no longer represents who we are as Mississippians.
So what does this vote mean moving forward? Well, it does not mean that we, the students, have the explicit power to remove the flag ourselves. However, it does do several things for our community on a local, state, and national level.
When I look forward, I believe that although some may be disappointed, we now have room for growth that did not exist before. Dialogue, even in disagreement, is always beneficial. This new change pushes us to have those challenging conversations in which we often learn something about other people, even if we do not agree.
In an effort to discourage voters from passing this resolution, Andrew Soper, an ASB Senator at the University of Mississippi, proclaimed that we should not bother doing anything because “removing symbols, flags, and monuments will do nothing to change the way people feel in their hearts.” I believe that the low amount of faith Andrew has in humanity — and especially in our family at the University of Mississippi — is sad.
When I think back to October 20th, for the first time in a while, I am filled with pride for my school. I am reminded to keep my faith in people and their ability to see my pain and recognize it for what it is. Lastly, I am reminded not to judge people for their beliefs, because while listening to my senators debate, I listened to people describe the journey through which their hearts changed. In hearing that, my heart is forever changed.
I hope that this is not the last step towards change for this university. Someday, I hope to see the monuments honoring fallen confederate soldiers in their proper place — a museum. I aspire to return to this campus and see the names of segregationist and slave owners removed from buildings and replaced with names of individuals who work to make life better for all. One day, I hope to see Hamer Hall replace Vardaman and Meredith Hall replace Lamar.
I am optimistic that, one day, the state of Mississippi will no longer have to face national ridicule for the symbols by which we choose to identify. Then, I will be able to travel to Vermont and not feel the need to justify why I am proud to be from this state. Mississippi has so much character because of all the challenges we have conquered. We have our scars, but we should be proud of them because we overcame. But we must not allow our pride to prevent those scars from healing.
Unlike many flagship institutions, I believe that the University of Mississippi has the unique ability to effect change on the state and national levels. This university is the Alma Mater of many state leaders. Therefore, they care about this university and what strides it is taking to progress. I think that the UM community has the ability to set the precedent for lawmakers that we are ready for a change.
On a national scale, seeing an institution with such an unpleasant history take steps toward healing can show the world that Mississippi is not static. With respect to how far we have come, we can move forward.
A Heritage of Hate is No Heritage to Celebrate
by Sammy Brown II
Political Science student at the University of Mississippi
The University of Mississippi has taken a tremendous step towards making the university a better place for African Americans. The vote to remove the Mississippi state flag — which prominently displays the Confederate flag — by the Associated Student Body was a historic and emotional night for me.
I am an African American and a student at Ole Miss. Like many who fit my description, the state flag — like the countless confederate memorials on campus — is a reminder of the painful truths of our ancestors past. As I sat outside of Bryant Hall on the night of the vote, I thought about what the removal of that flag means to me.
In recent weeks, I have heard countless white students who are proponents of the flag say that the flag represents Southern pride and heritage. They say that it represents the rebellion of their ancestors, who stood up for what they believed was right. It is baffling to me how our views of the flag could be so different.
When I look at that flag, I do not see pride or rebellion; I see something much more sinister and nefarious. I see the whipped backs of African slaves. I see slave children being ripped from their mothers. I see the thousands of African Americans who were terrorized and lynched in the era following slavery. I see the Ku Klux Klan proudly marching down city streets in parades, exclaiming “segregation forever.”
The flag, to me, represents the violence and suffering that many of my ancestors — black people — experienced for centuries in this country. It represents the original sin of racial injustice in America. Furthermore, the recent slaying of nine African Americans in a church this summer— in 2015—by a racist white teen demonstrates that such racial violence is more than a relic of days past.
Like many of his ancestors, Dylann Roof thought of the flag as a symbol of his heritage and of white supremacy. The Confederate flag is clearly an outright repudiation of the American values that we hold dear — values such as “all men are created equal.” For this reason alone, it should not serve as the representative symbol for any public institution — especially an entire state.
Finally, for the people who claim that the flag is merely a representation of their heritage, I have to ask: Is this the heritage that you want to commemorate? Is this the heritage that you want to pass on to your children? For the sake of the future of our state and our nation, I sincerely hope not.
Mississippi’s State Flag is a Symbol of White Supremacy
by Samiah Patton
English student at the University of Mississippi
As a native of Miami, Florida, I always believed that I faced little to no obstacles because of race. I was proud of the progress that America had made, but my perspective was skewed. Going off to college meant new endeavors and experiences.
Touring the campus of the University of Mississippi, there was a sense of pride and traditionalism that I sought to be a part of despite the various and subtle warnings I received from my family — many of them Mississippi natives. At the time, I did not grasp the seriousness of their warnings. Four years later, my eyes have seen the glory!
Here, discussions of racial equality are overshadowed by questions about the state flag — which bears Confederate imagery — and whether or not it should be flown. As an African American student at the University of Mississippi, what message is the university sending by displaying this emblem that so readily reinforces white supremacy and racial intimidation?
One may argue that the state flag holds value to the traditions of Mississippi and to the pride of Southerners. But what does it say to students of color attending the university? What imagery could this emblem evoke other than that of the racial violence and intimidation such as lynching?
It isn’t just about heritage. The Confederate flag experienced a resurgence of popularity in 1948 as Dixiecrats revolted when President Harry Truman desegregated the military and supported an anti-lynching bill. Confederate flags began to pop up all over the South.
The flying of a flag that embodies such an intimate relationship to the barbaric practice of lynching is degrading to the African American student on the campus. For African Americans, the alleged flag of freedom brings to mind burning, castrated, and tarred black bodies. It promotes not only physical intimidation, but induces psychological intimidation, too.
Many are aware of the wretched history of this state, but what progress have we truly made since the integration of this university? What is the experience for African American students at the University of Mississippi? Are they safe to transition from one class to another or back home?
With the Ku Klux Klan permitted to pierce the campus with the presence of their odious beliefs, how does the university protect students who call Oxford home? Can they protect us? Are they willing to protect us? One can not desire to preserve such menacing symbols and also desire to defend the honor of those whose dignity those symbols diminish.
The University of Mississippi is one that yields unlimited potential, but is overshadowed by the racial tensions that are embedded in the culture of the institution. Even when the flag ceases to fly at the epicenter of the campus, is it a remedy to the underlying issues that many refuse to address? Refusing to fly the Mississippi state flag over the heads of African Americans will not eradicate the systemic oppression that we endure on a daily basis.
Someone might say, “I’m not racist. I’m kind to blacks.” But from where does that kindness stem? Kindness is not the same as progress. In fact, kindness can be a silencing mechanism that mutes and blinds us to the truth of systemic racism with the introduction of feigned solutions — “solutions” that do not address the issues of physical endangerment, psychological anguish, and disregard imposed upon us through institutionalized white supremacy.
The agitation of these issues at the University of Mississippi will not solve these problems, but it will force us to seek solutions and methods that will. The million dollar question is this: Will The University of Mississippi protect the African American student body, even as they stand up against degrading traditions and customs that have long been practiced here?