By Talbert Toole
From rallies to student-led protests, Confederate rhetoric and its symbols in Oxford and on the University of Mississippi campus have been a hot topic for recent discussions and debates.
UM Solidarity—a student organization that facilitates educational spaces on campus—hosted a panel discussion entitled “Confederate Symbolism, Racism and Activism at UM,” Thursday night in Lamar Hall.
“A big reason we’re here today is because of the statue that’s in the Circle,” Jordan said.
Jordan began the discussion by asking the panel to discuss the reason why the statue was initially erected on the university’s campus.
John Neff, associate professor of history and director of The Center for Civil War Research, said the Confederate monument was erected in 1906 by the Daughters of the Confederacy. The location of the statue was debated by city locals in regard to where it should be placed. After it was decided the statue would be erected on the university’s campus, residents of the city raised money to have a second statue placed on the Square.
Recently, student-led protests have marched across campus advocating for the relocation of the Confederate statue to the Confederate cemetery which resides south of the Tad Smith Coliseum.
Across the South, large Confederate monuments sitting on pedestals portray a certain message, said Charles Ross, professor of history and director of the African American studies program.
“I think it’s a strong message, particularly to African Americans, that you have to remain in your place,” Ross said.
“As a public institution, the university is supposed to serve in the interest of all citizens and individuals who come to the university in which there is no insensitivity connected to any message the institution is trying to convey.”
The discussion continued as questions were raised how the university can move forward to be more inclusive to all the students, faculty and staff, and if the statue should be relocated. However, Kirk Johnson, associate professor of sociology and African American studies, said the statue should remain in its location if the university society’s values have not changed since the erection of it.
Lafayette County resident Effie Burt attended Thursday night’s panel discussion. She said the statue “needs to be out of her view.”
“If I don’t see it, it will be out of my mind,” Burt said.
Burt moved back to Mississippi in 2007 with the goal of simply taking care of her mother; however, Burt said she still sees so many things wrong in the community, including the Confederate statue.
Burt said she continuously advocates for the relocation of the Confederate statue that resides on the Square’s courthouse lawn to the Board of Supervisors. She said the Supervisors said they would consider contextualizing the statue.
“We did not ask for that statue to be built,” Burt said.
When “hate groups,” as she referenced to the February “Mississippi Stands” rally, come to Oxford, taxpayers have to pay for extra protection to have extra law enforcement, Burt said.
“I am now paying for protection of a statue that fought to keep me enslaved,” she said. “That really pisses me off.”
Burt approached the Supervisors in March and asked them to consider moving the Square statue to the Confederate cemetery due to security concerns. During that meeting, Supervisor Jeff Busy told Burt that the board was not ready to vote on whether to move the statue; however, many of Burt’s concerns are addressed in the board’s newly updated facility use policy.
Oxford resident and Ole Miss alumnus Starke Miller, who is an advocate for Civil War history, also attended the panel discussion.
Miller gives day-long Civil War tours around the university’s campus and has studied the war for more than 29 years. He said he believes education is key when it comes to the history of the statue.
One thing that irritates Miller regarding the statue’s history, he said, is the lack of understanding of who erected the statue and why.
“It was erected by Lafayette County women for Lafayette soldiers who did not come home,” he said. “It is to the dead boys and their families who did not get a body back.”
Miller said it’s a crucial fact the statue wasn’t erected to glorify of the Confederacy.
Although Miller and Burt have different opinions of the Confederate statue, he said he did learn a different viewpoint during the panel discussion.
“I’m white, so it is always interesting for me to sit and listen to black people and their concerns and the way they see things,” Miller said. “I see the depth of feeling.”