By Therese Apel
JACKSON, Miss. (Reuters) - The University of Mississippi stopped flying the state flag on its campus on Monday after students and faculty demanded the removal of the banner, whose design incorporates a Confederate battle image that has come under attack across the U.S. South.
The state's flagship university, nicknamed "Ole Miss," lowered the flag during a morning ceremony and planned to relocate it to the university's archives, according to the school's website.
The flag carried by the South's pro-slavery Confederacy during the 1861-1865 Civil War emerged as a national flashpoint after the massacre of nine black people at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June. The accused white gunman, Dylann Roof, was seen in photographs posing with the flag.
The university's decision to lower the flag followed votes this month by student government and faculty organizations that sought its removal. The flag has also been removed at some other Mississippi college campuses.
"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," said interim chancellor Morris Stocks in a news story on the school's website. "That is why the university faculty, staff and leadership have united behind this student-led initiative.”
Yet to defenders, it remains a symbol of heritage, not hate.
Mississippi Republican Governor Phil Bryant has rejected calls by some state leaders to call a special legislative session to address the issue. In a statement on Monday, he noted that Mississippi voters overwhelmingly endorsed the state flag's current design in a 2001 referendum.
"I believe publicly funded institutions should respect the law as it is written today. It clearly states 'The state flag shall receive all the respect and ceremonious etiquette given the American flag,'" Bryant said.
(Reporting by Therese Apel; Writing by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)