The University of Mississippi permanently lowered the state flag from its campus grounds on Monday, in a historic decision to distance itself from the flag’s controversial Confederate emblem.
The flag’s removal follows a 33-15 vote with one abstention by student senate members and faculty last week. Mississippi has been the only state to fully include the Confederate symbol in its flag.
“This is one small step in the structure change we want to see at the University,” the state’s NAACP chapter president Buka Okoye said. “I’m positive for the future because of how quickly the administration acted.”
The decision comes more than four months after a gunman opened fire inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina killing nine people. Once law enforcement officials identified the suspected gunman, photos of him embracing the Confederate flag surfaced, sparking a national debate over the emblem and its racist roots.
Weeks after the shooting, South Carolina finally removed the battle flag from flying above the statehouse grounds—more than 50 years after it was first raised to protest the civil rights movement.
Despite calls from Mississippi lawmakers, including two Republican senators, to do away with the Confederate symbol on the Mississippi state flag in the wake of the Charleston mass shooting, the move to do so likely faces an uphill battle in a state that has flown the symbol for more than a century.
“As Mississippi’s flagship university, we have a deep love and respect for our state,” the university’s interim chancellor Morris Stocks said in a statement on Monday. “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.”