OXFORD, MISS. — It's hard to find a college or university where race has played as decisive a part of campus history as the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
Even before the 1962 riots, many of the formal and informal symbols of campus life turned on race, from school mascot "Colonel Reb," a caricature of a confederate officer, to the tradition of waving the Confederate flag and singing "Dixie" at high points at football games.
Last fall, the student senate passed a resolution encouraging students and spectators not to carry that flag. Students Jada Love and Allie Grisham also raised the issue in their report to the race forum in Oxford on March 15.
"The need of the university to welcome all students far outweighs [the value of] this flag, which has come to be adopted by racist groups," they argued.
Only one member of the audience spoke out against the idea. "I'm just a guy who comes to the game, and when it comes to me to wave it, I will," said Bryant Scott Walker, who runs a lawn-care service in South Haven, Miss. After discussion with the students long after the hall emptied, he revised his views: "I'll honor their request [not to carry the flag to games], but I won't condemn anyone else that flies it," he said.
Now celebrating its sesquicentennial, Ole Miss is doing some hard thinking about its history. Administrators searched the records and found that the university had never adopted the Confederate flag as a symbol.
"We think the alumnae have come together on this issue. It just took time for this to evolve and get comfortable with it," says University Chancellor Robert Khayat. Campus observers compare his talks to the alumnae on this issue to Nixon's historic trip to China.
"We're asking the alumnae to place the interest of the university above their own personal interest. In my heart, I believe that the University of Mississippi can be the national model for reconciliation," he adds.
James Meredith and other black alumnae met on the Ole Miss campus last month for a reunion. It was a time to mark progress, says Thomas Wallace, vice chancellor for student life.
Students are leading a drive to build a monument on campus to civil rights workers. "When you walk through the ... campus, you are confronted by symbols such as the Confederate monument or traditional plantation architecture.... For people of our generation, the defining moment in the south was the civil rights movement, not the Civil War," says John Edge of the Civil Rights Commemoration Foundation.
The site for the new monument will be out of sight of the monument to the Confederacy. "We didn't want to play one against the other. Both have a part in our Southern past and present," Mr. Edge says.