State flag unfurled during Ole Miss football game stirs debate

Published 10:14 am Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Debate was sparked on both sides regarding the presence of the Mississippi state flag at Saturday’s football game against Alabama after a large 20-by-30-foot flag was unfurled in the student section and later confiscated. Smaller flags and signs that read “Let The Band Play Dixie” were also confiscated by security under the stadium’s policy that outlawed sticks and banners in 1997.

Katherine Pace, a graduate student from Olive Branch, was making her way back to her seat before the game started when she heard cheering from the student section and noticed the flag.

“It made me proud to see a big chunk of the student section reaching out and voicing their opinions about it,” Pace says. “That is our state flag. I hadn’t seen it at Ole Miss in over a year.”

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A different view

Allen Coon, a junior at Ole Miss who penned the student resolution to remove the flag from campus in 2015, feels differently.

“I think it shows that there are community members who feel like their heritage and Southern identity is being infringed upon or somehow taken away,” Coon said. “I don’t think our community members think about the message that it sends and the weight and power that the symbol can have.”

Questioning motives

The removal of the smaller flags made Pace question the stadium’s policies.

“I couldn’t help but wonder, are they really taking them out of the stadium for safety reasons and for obstructing views or are they removing them because it’s the Mississippi state flag,” Pace said. “I want clarity on the whole issue. If these small state flags can’t be brought in, there are other little banners and signs that people bring in that should probably be taken away as well.”

Pace also sees both sides of the argument for and against the flag.

“If we’re going to change the state flag, it should be a vote on behalf of the entire state of Mississippi,” Pace said. “Everyone should be included.”

Will Pomeroy, president of Our State Flag Foundation, believes altering the flag would ignore some of Mississippi’s long and arduous history.

“The Civil War and Reconstruction were the most trying and difficult times in the state’s history,” Pomeroy said in an email interview. “Like many other Southern states, the Mississippi flag incorporates symbols of the Confederacy to acknowledge the sacrifice that so many of its citizens suffered from during and after the war. To change it would belittle that sacrifice.”

Time to compromise?

Coon hopes that a compromise can eventually be reached.

“We’re going to have to come together and dialogue, a very difficult and painful dialogue,” Coon said, “and we’re going to have to understand that this symbol contains multitudes.

“But if it’s going to be a symbol that represents all Mississippians, it’ll have to change.”

Senior Associate Athletic Director Michael Thompson said this weekend’s game against Georgia will be business as usual with no tightened security on hand to seek out flag-wavers and sign holders.