Update (06/30/20): The Mississippi state legislature passed a bill to remove the Confederate symbol from the state’s flag Sunday.
The bill now goes to Gov. Tate Reeves, who has said he will sign it.
A new flag without the Confederate symbolism that includes the words “In God, We Trust” will be designed, as outlined in the bill, and voters will decide on it in November.
The SEC told the state of Mississippi that if it doesn’t change its flag, it could lose the privilege of hosting conference events.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey had strong words for the state in a statement Thursday.
Ole Miss men’s basketball head coach Kermit Davis responded with his support on Twitter, and Ole Miss Athletics released a statement also agreeing with Sankey’s sentiment.
Mississippi State President Mark Keenum sided with Sankey and his in-state rivals in Oxford, explaining his university’s stance in a statement.
“Since 2015, our Student Association, Robert Holland Faculty Senate and university administration have been firmly on record in support of changing the state flag,” he said. “I have reiterated that view to our state’s leaders on multiple occasions, including during face-to-face discussions in recent days and hours. On June 12, I wrote to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the Mississippi House reaffirming that support. The letter said, in part, that our flag should be unifying, not a symbol that divides us. I emphasized that it is time for a renewed, respectful debate on this issue.”
The Mississippi state flag, which includes the flag of the Confederacy within it, has come under scrutiny in college athletics in recent years. The NCAA banned Mississippi and South Carolina from hosting pre-determined postseason events in 2001 because Confederate flags flew at each states’ capitol campuses. The restriction was rescinded for South Carolina in 2015 when the state removed the flag from its grounds.
“We commend South Carolina lawmakers for taking this action to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds,” the NCAA said in a statement in 2015. “For nearly 15 years we have specifically protested the flag by not allowing states like South Carolina to host pre-selected NCAA championships. With this impending change, and consistent with our policy, South Carolina may bid to host future NCAA championships once the flag no longer flies at the State House grounds.”
The Confederate flag and other Confederate monuments and markings have come under question as protests calling for social change have swept across America and abroad. Within sports, NASCAR outlawed the flag at all events and properties on June 10, stepping up its previous policy of requesting fans not bring it to races. Outside of sports, the US Marine Corps ordered the Confederate flag be removed from public display at bases and offices on June 5, a move that had been in the works since April.
“The Confederate battle flag has all too often been co-opted by violent extremists and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps,” the Marines released in a statement. “Our history as a nation, and events like the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, highlight the divisiveness the use of the Confederate battle flag.”
It remains to be seen how the state of Mississippi will respond to the SEC’s statement and ongoing pressure to change its flag. But the movement won a victory already this week.
On Wednesday, the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Board of Trustees voted unanimously to move the Confederate monument on the Ole Miss campus. The 29-foot statue and its plaque will go from the front of the Circle where they presently stand to the Confederate cemetery behind the Tad Smith Coliseum.
The removal of the monument from its prominent location has been a topic of protests and petition for years.
“I feel relieved,” Associated Student Body president Joshua Mannery told Hadley Hitson of The Daily Mississippian. “It feels good to finally be able to think about other things. I felt a lot of pressure, and I’m sure a lot of people at the university did with getting this thing moved.”