A controversy in which Mississippi has been a focal point resurfaced Tuesday as students and professors gathered to discuss the meaning behind Confederate symbols on campus, with an audience of both supporters of the Mississippi state flag and those in favor of its change.
Tuesday night, UM NAACP partnered with the UM Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement to host a Confederate Symbols Forum at Barnard Observatory.
Following the June 17 shooting of nine worshippers in a historically black church in Charleston, the media used suspected shooter Dylann Roof’s support of the Confederate flag to spark a debate across the United States about Confederate symbolism.
“It was the events that occurred over the summer, as well as the continued fight from Black Lives Matter activists for education equity, housing inequalities and disparities in the justice system happening across the board that led to this forum,” Chukwuebuka Okoye, UM NAACP president , said.
Okoye said with the goal of generating an ongoing discussion around campus surrounding the use of Confederate iconography and the use of the Confederate emblem in Mississippi’s state flag, NAACP and the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement formed this event to help the organizations provide a more inclusive space at the University.
John Neff, director of The Center for Civil War Research, was the first of the panelists to speak. Neff gave a brief overview of the wartime origins of Confederate symbols. Assistant professor of anthropology Jodi Skipper read aloud an essay she wrote detailing the importance of the power and influence of Confederate iconography on society.
Jeffrey Bourdon, writing and rhetoric instructor, utilized a white board and marker to present his argument of four phases the Confederate flag went through while being justified in society: segregation, rebellion, confusion and clarification— which starts this year.
Spencer Pleasants, a sophomore and co-president of UM Pride Network, mentioned these four phases while discussing his understanding of the forum.
“I’ve learned a lot about the history of the Confederacy, especially the four phases of how it was viewed after the Civil War,” Pleasants said. “I also learned how people who share my opposition for the flag can gather in a conducive, educated environment and that flag supporters almost seem glib and defending of the Confederate flag completely.”
Director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture Ted Ownby spoke on perceptions of the flag, especially those who wear, fly or show affection for it. Lastly, Leigh McWhite of archives and special collections concluded the conversation by providing the history of how Confederate symbols have affected the University of Mississippi.
To open the forum for discussion, ASB president Rod Bridges called the room to speak about the issue of Confederate symbols.
Jon Rawl, representative of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was first to take the podium as a supporter of the Confederate flag. Defending the attacks on Confederate symbols, Rawl asked the audience to consider the concepts discussed by the panelists and determine whether the same concepts could apply to the American flag.
Freshman Jaylon Martin rose in response.
“Comparing the American and Confederate flags doesn’t change what the Confederate flag symbolizes,” Martin said. “The right to live was taken away under this flag. You can’t ignore the feelings of citizens of yesterday or today. Considering what was done under this flag’s name should make you not want to wave the confederate flag.”