Sunday, September 27, 2020

Neo-Confederates and counter-demonstrators face off in Oxford and Ole Miss

Neo-Confederate groups engage in a battle of words with counter-demonstrators on the Ole Miss campus. Photo by Grant Gibbons.

Pro-confederate groups gathered in Oxford and on the Ole Miss campus Saturday. Members of Confederate 901 and the Hiwaymen said the demonstration’s purpose was to promote the protection of statues and other symbols that represent the Confederacy.

George “K-Rack” Johnson leads Confederate 901. He says he is tired of people making assumptions about him and his organization.

“It’s just like me out here, and I’ll publically say, ‘Well you know, that black man with his pants sagging down below his pants ain’t nothing but a drug dealer.’ Well, because I walk around with a Confederate flag in my hands and support my southern history, that doesn’t mean that I’m a racist.”

Johnson says counter-demonstrators are victimizing his group and others like it.

“They claim that they’re trying to fight for equality and fight oppression, but whose being oppressed here? Us southern people are being oppressed.”

Following the one mile walk from the city’s square to the Circle on campus, the neo-Confederate groups were met by an almost equal number of counter-demonstrators. The university and local law enforcement made sure the two opposing groups were separated by a one hundred fifty-foot buffer zone patrolled by officers and open to media.

Map of route from the Confederate monument on the Oxford Square to the state on the Ole Miss Circle.

The demonstrators hurled insults and chants across the muddy grass that separated them. Pro-Confederates shouted “God bless Dixie,” and were met with roars of “You lost, go home.”

Counter-protester Destany Bouldin was one of the first to arrive at the Circle. Despite the threat of thunderstorms and a tornado watch, Bouldin wanted to ensure that her voice was heard.

“We’re planning on staying out here, we all have our umbrellas and rain jackets. We’re not going anywhere.”

Ole Miss alumnus Hayden Brewer was upset that the neo-Confederate group was allowed to rally on campus.

“The real issue I think is this glorification of the Confederacy.”

Brewer and a group of friends came up to Ole Miss to watch the protest, particularly to keep an eye on the contextualization plaques that were placed in front of statues and buildings last year to provide context for the structures, which have been targeted for removal by some and revered as symbolic of their history and culture by others.

“This group particularly brags a lot on Facebook about destroying, damaging, or stealing these plaques,” said Brewer.

The Hiwaymen and Confederate 901 traveled from out of state to demonstrate, and some out-of-state students had never seen anything like it.

“I’m from The Northeast, and I moved to Mississippi and lived here for three years now. Something like this in The Northeast is very uncommon,” Michael Martinkovic, a junior political science major at Ole Miss, said.

Although the two groups said they do not represent hate, some people sensed an air of tension and intolerance.

“It was a weird feeling because you can feel the aggression. You can feel the hate. That really kind of set me back a little because I really wasn’t expecting that much,” 2017 Ole Miss graduate Darius Fondren said.

Although the university planned for hundreds of demonstrators on campus, only a fraction of those numbers came, but that still didn’t change the impact on students and alumni.

“I don’t want it on campus because, in my opinion, it’s hate speech. They have no concept of understanding the perception of another minority group of people,” Martinkovic said.

People said there is change happening on campus, but it gets overshadowed by pro-Confederate symbols and demonstrations.

“What people don’t see: there is a lot of black activism going on in the city of Oxford and also on the campus bringing these types of protesters here because they’re making those changes,” Fondren said.

In the Circle, counter-protesters and students gathered to make sure their voices were heard.

“It made me feel like I served my purpose today, as a black student and as a black woman here at the University of Mississippi. I played my part,” senior communications science and disorders major Ledra Luce said.

Audreiona Waters, senior exercise science major, said she was “proud of the diversity and the unity” among the counter-protesters and is going “to keep protesting” until her voice is heard.

By Brittany Brown, Grant Gibbons and Madison Scarpino.