Chancellor Porter L. Fortune Jr. of the University of Mississippi yesterday banned official use of the Confederate flag as a school symbol in an effort to quell a campus controversy ignited by the refusal of the school's first black cheerleader to wave the banner.
Fortune said that students not acting in an official capacity would be allowed to display the flags and that the university, whose athletic teams are nicknamed the "Rebels," would continue using a "Colonel Rebel" mascot and playing "Dixie" as one of its official songs.
Porter said that the university, integrated by James Meredith at bayonet point in September, 1962, has no authority to prevent individuals from displaying the Confederate flag.
Porter maintained that the Confederate flag never has been an official school symbol.
" 'Dixie' is really outside my domain. It belongs to the public," Fortune added, "and I do not propose to go around telling who can play 'Dixie' and use the music or even who can whistle 'Dixie.' "
The controversy at the 9,000-student main campus at Oxford was the latest in more than a decade of uneasiness at formerly segregated southern schools, including many in Virginia, where large numbers of blacks have been offended by sanctioned use of what they see as symbols of segregation and racism.
"Black students on campus view the flag as a racist symbol, and I personally cannot separate it from the Klan and what they stand for," said Lydia Spragin of Clarksdale, Miss., president of the school's Black Student Union.
She commended Fortune for taking an "initial step" to abandon racist symbols.
But she said that she is unsure if his directive will last beyond his term as chancellor and whether rebel flags will remain on sale at the school bookstore.
"There is still the need," she said, "to have a symbol designed specifically and uniquely for the University of Mississippi."
Joe Bogdahn of Pascagoula, president of the school's Associated Student Body, the student government, said that he thinks most Ole Miss students will agree with Fortune's edict.
"When they're waving the rebel flag, they are not thinking white supremacy. They're thinking school spirit, and most of the time they're waving it to cheer on black athletes. It's a tradition here at the university . . . , " he said.
"If I want to carry my rebel flag, I would carry it to games," Bogdahn said.
"If I wanted to carry, what do you call it, the African unity flag, the red-black-and-green, I could do that also," he added.
The controversy began last fall when John Hawkins, the school's first black cheerleader, called a news conference to announce that he would not wave the Confederate flag as was a custom among male cheerleaders there.
Fortune, chancellor for 15 years, began considering concerns expressed by Hawkins and echoed by others among the school's approximately 700 black students, who also complained about inadequate black-oriented programs and staff.
On Monday night, school officials said, about 1,000 white students marched through the campus after hearing that blacks planned to burn copies of the school yearbook that contained pictures of a Ku Klux Klan rally last year off campus.
Some of the pictures in the yearbook showed Klansmen with Confederate flags.
The crowd marched to the nearby house of a predominantly black fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, singing "Dixie" and chanting, "Save the flag."
They were confronted by police, but there was no violence.
There also was no burning of books.
On Tuesday afternoon, about 200 blacks gathered at another spot on campus, said the Lord's Prayer and sang, "We Shall Not Be Moved" and "We Shall Overcome" before going to class.