Mississippi awoke one recent morning to learn that a bronze statue honoring the late senator Theodore G. Bilbo, patron saint of segregation, had been exiled from its prominent spot in the capitol rotunda to a dusty corner down the hall.

Legislators tromping back for a special session were the first to notice the fall from grace of yet another symbol of Mississippi's varied racial past.

Some grumbled quietly. Others applauded William F. Winter, the bespectacled, reform-minded governor who saw Bilbo as an affront to blacks, and thus gave the order to move his statue 150 yards.

"That's not very far in distance," said state Rep. Jim Simpson, 52. "But in ideology, it's a hell of a long way. To put Bilbo in such a prominent place seemed to say to blacks, 'Here it is, like it or not; take it or leave it.'

But for the Magnolia State's ultra-patriots, Bilbo's exile represents the death of yet another symbol of the Old South -- a puffy-chested, finger-wagging demagogue dispatched to the back of the bus long after other southern states set about writing their own revisionist history.

Certainly, blacks can claim some political clout here since the 1965 Voting Rights Act took root. But symbols measure progress, too. Count one black cheerleader at the University of Mississippi, where there is talk of replacing the Confederate flag at football games.

"Move Bilbo and you've got to tear down all the Confederate statues on courthouse steps, and burn all the antebellum mansions to be fair," quipped one gray-haired lawmaker.

Bilbo was a state legislator, governor twice and a U.S. senator. In 1910, he kept his state Senate seat by a single vote after being impeached for lying about whether he had pocketed a bribe.

As governor, he pushed free textbooks and other modest reforms. But historians remember his appeal to ignorance, a populist inciting racial furies. He advised whites that the best way to ensure that blacks "voted right" was to visit them on election eve.

He advocated repatriation of blacks to Africa. But a cigar-chomping Bilbo protege, Heber Ladner, 80, Mississippi's ex-secretary of state, recalls that Bilbo favored a "voluntary program. He didn't want to force anyone."

Bilbo was caned on several occasions by opponents while on the stump. Historian William Alexander Percy called him "a pert little monster, glib and shameless, with the sort of cunning common to criminals. The people loved him. They said of him proudly, 'He's a slick little bastard.' He was one of them and he had risen from obscurity to the fame of glittering infamy -- it was as if they themselves had crashed the headlines."

Just before Bilbo died in 1947, U.S. Senate colleagues found that he had "improperly used his high office for personal dealings with war contractors." Soon after, the life-size statue was unveiled, with legislation mandating its "prominent" display on the first floor of the capitol.

Mississippi's governor has little power compared to the legislature, and some were surprised that Winter dared tamper with Bilbo's statue. Governors were politically neutered by the 1890 state constitition, which Bilbo once praised as a "document that damn few white men and no [blacks] at all can explain."

Bilbo's banishment down the hall has resulted in a flurry of scribbles in the thick visitors' book outside Winter's office.

"I liked Bilbo where he was," scrawled Beth Hudson. "Put him back!"

"I don't care where he goes," wrote another visitor.

"Who's Bilbo?" wondered a boy from Tupelo.

House Speaker H.R. (Buddy) Newman has offered to give Bilbo's likeness a home in his spacious office.

Beneath a Confederate mural, Henry Kirksey, a black state senator, peered over the railing and stared at Bilbo's former roost.

Said Kirksey of the statue: "It ought to be right down there where it was, to remind people that we're still Mississippi. I don't have any problem with that because that's the way things still are.

"If you hide Bilbo, you're hiding the past. That doesn't help anyone. State employes still take a paid day off for Jefferson Davis' birthday. I'd rather cut that out and save some money than move Bilbo. Bilbo doesn't hurt anybody."