JACKSON, Miss. ― Another Mississippi university has stopped flying the state flag that prominently features the Confederate battle emblem.
Mississippi State University becomes the sixth of the state’s eight public universities to do so.
University spokesman Sid Salter said Tuesday that President Mark Keenum approved deans’ plans to remove the flag from four locations on the Starkville campus. 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 MSU removed Mississippi flags from athletic arenas “several” years ago.
Keenum didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. In April, students staged a protest and demanded the removal of the state flag. Keenum responded that he wanted the state flag to change, but that MSU should keep flying the flag until it does.
“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,” he 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.
Deborah Frazier, a junior and English major who is president of the Mississippi State campus branch of the NAACP, said she and other students led the protest last spring after Keenum told them in a meeting he didn’t intend to remove the flag. She said she learned over the summer that the flags had been removed.
“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 Frazier, a 20-year-old from Benton. “Now it doesn’t remind us daily when we see the flag of that oppression.”
Salter said flags were removed from outside a veterinary building, a conference center belonging to the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, an alumni center and a veterans’ center. He said the changes were made in June and July.
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.
Since 1894, the Mississippi flag has had the Confederate battle emblem in its upper left corner ― a blue X with 13 white stars, over a field of red. In a 2001 referendum, Mississippi voters strongly supported keeping the flag. 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.
A number of groups at Mississippi State renewed calls for a new flag after the shooting.
The University of Mississippi, MSU’s archrival, took down 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 University school continues to fly the state flag, school spokeswoman Jennifer Farish said Tuesday. Mississippi University for Women President Jim Borsig did not respond to a request for comment.