By Anna Grace Usery
Video by Talbert Toole
The dark grey clouds that rolled into Oxford set a monotone background to the reds and blues of Confederate flags that whipped in the grips of protestors on the Square Saturday. Men, women and children decked in their Confederate regalia, were there not only to march from the Confederate monument on the Lafayette County Courthouse lawn to the one at the edge of the Circle on Ole Miss’ campus but to protect their Confederate heritage, they said.
The Mississippi Stands rally—hosted by Tennessee and Arkansas-based groups Confederate 901 and The Highwaymen—took place in the midst of tornado watches, temperamental winds and some rain.
“We’re over here for our ancestors and our heritage,” said Shirley Brown of Pontotoc. “We’re here for freedom.”
Nearly 50 gathered in solidarity of Confederate values at 1 p.m. on the Square among a heavy police and media presence. The Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department and Oxford Police Department held posts at each corner of the Square, advising onlookers to keep the sidewalks clear. Members of The Highwaymen organization arrived approximately 30 minutes later, which added another 25 protestors to the group.
“Don’t come to Mississippi and take nothing from us,” said Joy Redwine of Batesville, as she paced the Confederate statue’s platform on the edge of the Lafayette County Courthouse. “We voted.”
Protestors first lined the front of the courthouse near the entrance, then made their way to the front side of the statue where they began singing and waving their flags in circular motions. Car honks were faintly heard above protestor voices.
“We’re here!” one man shouted to mark the start of their stand.
A group of counter-protestors established themselves in front of Square Books and Village Taylor, who subsequently began chanting, “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Racism has got to go.” At one point during the stand, they each locked onto the same tune — “This Little Light of Mine,” a children’s song that civil rights leaders in the 1960s used as a way to unite themselves.
“Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine,” they sang.
One woman from Grenada said her thought on the Confederate statue was simple: take it down.
“I think all of these statues should’ve been taken down years ago with the (Mississippi state) flag,” said Edna Lee, who stood a mere 30 feet from protestors. “We have no reason to fly the Confederate flag in this day and age because it creates hatred among the racists.”
Several others disagreed, including a pro-Confederate Jewish woman from Tampa, Florida named Jenna Bernstein who has devoted her life to speaking up for her Confederate brothers and sisters. Bernstein said she’s been a part of rallies in Dallas, Winston-Salem and New Orleans. The only reason she was not in Charlottesville at the time of the Unite the Right rally is being she was protesting elsewhere, she said.
“I’m here to commemorate the 12,000 Jewish Confederate veterans that are being defaced, defamed and ridiculed by a gross misrepresentation of that war memorial right there,” she said, pointing at the statue. “Jews did not put up monuments to subjugate themselves, just like people of color didn’t.”
Bernstein came to Oxford to complement one of her best friends, H.K. Edgerton, an African-American Confederate activist who donned his Confederate uniform at the rally today. He was the only person of color among the Caucasian protestors.
“They are acting like the Socialists of 1933,” she said, referring to those who want the Confederate statue on campus removed. “I’m trying to save my country.”
She went on to say nonviolent civil disobedience is being ignored by “thugs” and “vigilante mentality.”
“True tolerance is all American history, the ugly and the good,” she said.
After standing at the statue for an hour and a half, protestors marched their way down University Avenue to campus’ Confederate monument. University Police Department instructed all protestors and counter-protestors—who awaited Confederate protestors in the Circle—to walk through metal detectors and chauffeured both to their respective “freedom pens” which many protestors dubbed as the barricaded areas. The distance between barricades was 150 feet, according to university officials. Confederate protestors were stationed nearest the statue.
University of Mississippi Rhodes Scholar Jaz Brisak, who was stationed at the four-way stop across from Coulter Hall in between protestors and the statue on campus, said the university has gone out of its way to accommodate hate from these groups.
“I think confronting white supremacy is everyone’s responsibility but particularly white people because they created white supremacy in the first place,” she said.
Bernstein said she’s aware students want to see the statue removed, and says she respects everyone. However, when she looks to the future she still sees the statues standing.
“I really want us to work together to come to a proper place in history where (the statues) are just left alone and (we) respect the dead,” she said.
Em Gill, secretary of the Students Against Social Injustice (SASI) organization on campus, said in an interview with Hottytoddy.com last week the group will continue to advocate for what the students want and demand UM administration make campus a safer, more inclusive place.
“We will not stop until the statue is removed from campus,” they said.
Lifestyles Editor Talbert Toole contributed to this report.