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Monumental Defense: A Movement to Protect the Confederate Statue

By Talbert Toole
Lifestyles Editor
talbert.toole@hottytoddy.com

Over the past years, the Confederate statue that remains in the heart of the University of Mississippi campus has been a controversial topic. Photo by Talbert Toole.

Mississippi is known for its rich heritage, southern hospitality and sweet tea, but more so, it is known for its preservation of history. For one Ole Miss alumnus, that preservation is specific to the memories of the Confederacy, the soldiers who lost their lives, and those who were buried without tombstones after the Civil War.

Born in Senatobia, William Garner’s history in Mississippi runs deep. He calls the state, and his alma mater, more than just a school but, “a state of mind … a way of life.”

Although his family uprooted from Mississippi to raise Garner in Arkansas, he was always drawn back to Ole Miss for football games at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Garner recalled fond memories of his experience with Ole Miss, such as Archie Manning teaching him how to throw a rollout pass in The Grove in the late 1960s.

The following year that same pass allowed Garner, a quarterback, to lead his junior high football team to an undefeated season and eventually a city championship.

“I could throw a rollout pass and [the opponent] couldn’t stop it,” he said.

Garner returned to Ole Miss where he received his education and graduated in 1980.

The Beginning of a Movement

Now that years have passed and Garner and his wife have settled down in Florida, he has found himself troubled by the current situation at the place he holds so many memories—the monument for Confederate soldiers.

Recently, students and faculty members at the university have associated the statue with Jim Crow, racism and segregation, he said.

Garner said he has been around the school his entire life and the current accusations against the statue are “shocking and insulting.”

While criticism of the statue began to surface, Garner realized it was time for him to get involved.

“Sometimes you have to stand up for what is right,” he said. “Sometimes you have to stand alone and stand up for what is right.”

Garner said he is lucky to have some many others who believe in his ideology of the statue: a memorial to fallen soldiers who died in battle.

(Click to enlarge) William Garner initiated the movement for flowers at the statue for Memorial Day on April 11. Photo via Facebook.

Although stated in a previous article, “University Clarifies Flower Removal Policy for Confederate Monuments,” that George “K-Rack” Johnson, leader of Memphis based organization “Confederate 901” began the movement for flower placement at the statue for Memorial Day, it was actually Garner who initiated first on April 11. His efforts led members of the “Make Ole Miss Great Again” (MOMGA) group to contribute flower placements.

MOMGA’s mission statement states that it works to promote the preservation of a variety of things that make Ole Miss special and stands firm against rude behavior and bad attitudes.

“Our Mission is to promote the preservation of the monuments, the images, the music and the unique history that make Ole Miss special, to help the University of Mississippi Leadership, faculty and student body rediscover, embrace, promote and reflect the values, culture and charm of historic Ole Miss, and finally, to rebut those who would unfairly and dishonestly disparage the University, its culture, symbols or its history. We will embody and applaud good manners, Southern charm, and hospitality. Together, we stand firmly against bad attitudes, rude behavior, intimidation, adversarial and divisive conduct. We are Ole Miss.” — MOMGA mission statement

Garner said he was not going to sit still while the monument goes unrecognized during the Memorial Day holiday.

“We’ve brought some of this on ourselves because we haven’t treated the memorial as a memorial; we called it a second place trophy while I was in school [at Ole Miss],” he said.

Although flowers were sent to the Confederate memorials on various days, such as Confederate Memorial Day and graduation weekend, Garner said he was persistent to send them on the chosen holiday.

It finally occurred to Garner that the movement to send flowers to the memorials was “flying under the radar.”

He decided to purchase a full-page advertisement in The Clarion-Ledger where he was able to convey his message.

“This is a monument to fallen soldiers and nothing more,” he said. “People who tell you it stands for something are wrong. It just stands for fallen soldiers.”

Advertisement in The Clarion-Ledger that Garner purchased in honor of the Confederate soldiers. Photo courtesy of William Garner.

Through a GoFundMe page, Garner was able to raise $4,600 for the advertisement with donations from 113 individuals who share the same mission and ideology as he does.

Memorial Day Flowers Relocated

The organization raised an additional $500 to which it used to purchase flowers that were sent to the Confederate statue, located at the Lyceum-Circle on campus, in the late afternoon on Friday, May 24, according to Garner.

After the flowers were delivered, the florist the organization used sent Garner a picture confirming the flowers in vases had been delivered to the statue.

(Click to enlarge) Flowers were sent to the Confederate statue by the “Make Ole Miss Great Again” organization Friday, May 24. Photo courtesy of William Garner.

However, within less than 24 hours of the flowers being delivered, a member of the MOMGA organization visited the statue to find the flowers removed, according to Garner.

Upset with the situation at his alma mater, Garner called the Oxford Police Department to report a theft; however, Garner was transferred to the University Police Department.

Garner said he spoke with a dispatcher at the UPD and explained the situation. According to Garner, the dispatcher said the decision to move the flowers from the statue to the cemetery was made by Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks; however, according to a statement made to Hottytoddy.com on Wednesday by Rod Guajardo, associate director of strategic communications, the decision was not made by Sparks.

“If I wanted to send [the flowers] to the cemetery, I would have sent them there,” Garner said.

On Monday (Memorial Day), Hottytoddy.com photographed the flowers that had been moved to the cemetery.

(Click to enlarge) Flowers that were originally ordered and placed for the Confederate statue on campus were moved to the Confederate cemetery south of the Tad Pad Coliseum. Photo by Talbert Toole.

“I know [Sparks] is in a tough spot,” Garner said. “But you just don’t remove flowers from a memorial on Memorial Day.”

The Movement Continues

Although there has not been a resolution or clarification on the movement of flowers sent to the statue on Memorial Day, Garner said he plans to continue to advocate and reiterate the meaning of the Confederate statue at Ole Miss.

Garner and the MOMGA organization have already begun raising additional funds through a second GoFundMe Page—Monumental Defense II.

The funds raised through the page will be used to rent electronic billboards in Oxford and Jackson, and other strategic locations, in hopes to “rally more people to defend the Confederate Memorial at Ole Miss against desecration,” according to the page’s description.

“We’re going to continue to work to raise awareness,” Garner said.

Through phone calls, text messages and emails, Garner said there is an overwhelming amount of support to join the movement and to continue the group’s mission.

“The history of Mississippi cannot be told without the stories of Confederate soldiers,” Garner said.


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