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"Heritage of Hate": Univ. of Miss. Students Seek Removal of Confederate Battle Flag from Campus

October 20, 2015
Story
WATCH FULL SHOW

Guests

Allen Coon

president of the University of Mississippi College Democrats. As a senator in the university’s Associated Student Body, he has introduced a proposal to take down the Mississippi state flag from campus.

Dominique Scott

undergraduate in sociology and African-American studies at the University of Mississippi. She is the secretary of the university’s chapter of the NAACP and a regional organizer for Students Against Social Injustice, or USAS Local 121.

College students in Mississippi are confronting the national legacy of racism and slavery in a new battle over the display of Confederate symbols. The student government at the University of Mississippi will vote today on whether to seek removal of the state flag from campus grounds. The flag features the Confederate battle symbol in its upper left corner—the only state flag in the country that continues to use the design. It’s the latest Confederate symbol to be targeted for removal from a public space since a white supremacist killed nine African-American worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina, four months ago. Alabama and South Carolina have already taken down the Confederate flag on capitol grounds. Removing the flag would be particularly significant for the University of Mississippi, where in 1962 white students rioted over the registration of African-American student James Meredith, an incident that became a flashpoint in the civil rights struggle. Allen Coon, president of the University of Mississippi College Democrats, and Dominique Scott, secretary of the university’s chapter of the NAACP, discuss the student-led effort to remove the flag from campus grounds.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: College students in Mississippi are confronting the national legacy of racism and slavery in a new battle over the display of Confederate symbols. The student government at the University of Mississippi will vote today on whether to seek removal of the state flag from campus grounds. The flag features the Confederate battle symbol in its upper left corner, the only state flag in the country that continues to use the Confederate battle flag in its design. It’s the latest Confederate symbol to be targeted for removal from a public space since a white supremacist killed nine African-American worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina, four months ago. Alabama and South Carolina have already taken down the Confederate flag on capitol grounds.

On Friday, a crowd of several hundred people gathered beneath the University of Mississippi campus flagpole to make their case for removal.

STUDENT PROTESTER: ... to discuss the Confederate flag and the way that it impedes upon people’s personal belonging here at the University of Mississippi. We think that this symbol detracts from the purpose of inclusion that this university has adopted.

ASB!

PROTESTERS: Take it down!

STUDENT PROTESTER: What do we want?

PROTESTERS: Justice!

AMY GOODMAN: The students’ rally attracted a counterdemonstration from white supremacist groups who carried the Confederate flag and shouted racist slogans. If the flag is removed, the University of Mississippi would join three other state schools who do not display it. The towns of Oxford and Greenwood recently voted to remove the flag from public grounds, and a similar effort is underway in Jackson. But it would be particularly significant for the University of Mississippi, a school with a deep-rooted history of white supremacy. It was there in 1962 that white students rioted over the registration of African-American student James Meredith, an incident that became a flashpoint in the civil rights struggle. He would be the first African-American student to integrate the University of Mississippi.

For more, we’re joined by two students. Allen Coon is president of the University of Mississippi College Democrats. As a senator in the university’s student government, he has introduced the proposal to take down the Mississippi state flag from campus. And Dominique Scott is an undergraduate in sociology and African-American studies at the University of Mississippi, the secretary of the university’s chapter of the NAACP and a regional organizer for Students Against Social Injustice.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! as you join us from your campus at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi. Dominique Scott, let’s start with you. Why is this vote important today? And how did it come about?

DOMINIQUE SCOTT: Well, this vote is really important today because it’s going to essentially put pressure on our senior leadership, as well as just the city as a whole—as the whole city, sorry—showing that students are really rallying together and that we want the flag taken down and that we want to institutionalize inclusion here at the university.

AMY GOODMAN: Allen Coon, you introduced this bill. It’s going to be voted on not by the whole student body—right?—but by the student government. Explain exactly how you introduced this.

ALLEN COON: Well, you know, after the tragic events in Charleston, there’s been this national movement to address Confederate iconography. You know, our campus is steeped in symbols of the Confederacy and symbols of white supremacy. And I felt we ought to utilize this momentum to address these symbols. So, in late September, I contacted my allies in the NAACP on campus, and we decided to form a coalition and challenge ASB to take a stand. So many—so many universities across the state had released statements. You know, the student body at Mississippi State University actually released a statement challenging the state flag, and yet our student government had done nothing up until that point. So we wanted to show the world that we are prepared to take steps forward and create a positive, progressive change on our campus.

AMY GOODMAN: And what’s your assessment? Do you have the votes?

ALLEN COON: We feel very confident that this resolution will pass tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: Dominique Scott, a lot of people refer to the University of Mississippi as "Ole Miss." You don’t. Why?

DOMINIQUE SCOTT: I avoid using the term "Ole Miss" at all times, my friends and I. The term "Ole Miss" is definitely steeped in a history of racial oppression. Historically, the term "Ole Miss" is a term that slaves used to refer to the mistresses and—or matriarchs of their plantations. And so, when the school decided—was deciding on what they would nickname this school, one woman was quoted saying that "Ole Miss" was what old "darkies" used to refer to the mistress of their plantations as. And when the vote was passed to use the term "Ole Miss," the runner-up was "Ole Massa." And so, definitely the term is steeped within a history of white supremacy and racial oppression, so I refuse to refer to the institution from—of my institution of learning as what my ancestors used to refer to their oppressors as.

AMY GOODMAN: Dominique, can you talk about what happened around the statue of James Meredith that is on campus, the first African American to integrate University of Mississippi, what happened last year?

DOMINIQUE SCOTT: Yes, ma’am. In 2013, three individuals placed a noose around the neck of James Meredith—of the James Meredith statue with the old Georgia state flag. And they shouted racial slurs and "white power," in a way to intimidate black students on campus and once again perpetuate that culture of white supremacy and racial oppression.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Allen Coon, what do you say to those who talk about the flag representing heritage on campus?

ALLEN COON: I agree, it does represent a heritage. It represents a heritage of hate. It represents a heritage of white supremacy. It represents a heritage that this university has, in which this university—university actively oppressed people of color attempting to receive an education, to—you know, their attempting to acquire personal growth at this university. And it continues today. So we’re attempting to create a more inclusive environment. We’re trying to create a safe, tolerant academic space for all students.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what exactly happens today? What will take place? And what does the vote mean?

ALLEN COON: So, tonight we have a Senate meeting at 7:00 p.m. We will be discussing, debating this resolution. Hopefully, it will be voted upon. There’s 49 senators. We need a simple majority of 25 to pass this resolution. And it’s a nonbinding resolution, so when it passes, the senior leadership of the university has the opportunity to listen to our voices, but we’ve been receiving indications that they may not necessarily take the flag down when we pass this resolution. We may have to do more. And it’s disappointing to know that our voices aren’t enough, that our actions aren’t enough to bring down the symbol of oppression on our campus.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to turn to Danny Blanton, director of public relations for the University of Mississippi. He said, quote, "We commend our students for using the democratic process to engage in debate over civic issues. As a state institution we fly the flags representing our state and nation. However, as a university committed to fostering a welcoming and inclusive campus for all students, we continue to join other leaders in Mississippi to encourage our government to change the state flag." As we wrap up, Dominique Scott, what about that? You take down the flag, but it’s still the flag of Mississippi. In that upper left, the Confederate flag is very prominent. What is being done to change the flag of Mississippi?

DOMINIQUE SCOTT: I believe that there have been efforts and that there is conversations within Mississippi government to change the state flag. But regarding that statement from that individual, I would definitely say that the students are very upset that our senior leadership is not paying attention to the voices of the students. I honestly find that statement quite cowardly, that the—that senior leadership will not institutionalize inclusion. We had a meeting with the vice chancellor, who told us that the primary reason behind them not changing the flag was funding, and that they received threats from alumni and from the state government that they would have funding taken away from the school if they remove the flag. And so, I find it extremely, honestly, disturbing that we would not be able to fully fund the educations of our students here simply because the institution wants to institutionalize inclusion and detract and separate itself from symbols of white supremacy and symbols of racial oppression. And so I find that statement quite cowardly, and I really want to challenge my senior leadership to definitely be on the right side of history and be on the right side of what is right.

And, you know, essentially, to me, statements like that, that they are listening, that they hear the students, but, "Oh, well, you know, there’s nothing we can do about it, we’re a state institution," that really shows me what side the university is on, that it’s on the side of those Ku Klux Klan protesters that came, that it’s on the side of the League of the South, that it will not stand with students who want justice. And so, I would definitely say it’s really disconcerting and very disturbing being a student here, knowing that my institution, from which I receive an education, isn’t willing to stand with its black students and with other students that want justice.

AMY GOODMAN: But, Allen Coon, if you do vote to take it down, couldn’t this put the university in a very uncomfortable position, considering other universities, at Mississippi state universities, have taken the flag down?

ALLEN COON: Yes, ma’am, and that’s definitely the intention. We want to put pressure on our senior leadership. We want this to come down. We want our voices to be heard. And it’s time that we take down this symbol of oppression from our campus.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to follow this story, and we’ll report on headlines tomorrow what happened with your student government vote. Allen Coon, president of the University of Mississippi College Democrats, and Dominique Scott, secretary of the university’s chapter of the NAACP, a member of Students Against Social Injustice.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, there’s a question about whether Joe Biden will run for president. It’s been lingering for quite a long time. What is Joe Biden’s record? Stay with us.


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