The March 3 issue of The Daily Mississippian featured an article comprising James Meredith’s own opinions about the recent sullying of his statue. As a solution to the problems presented by the event, Meredith said in a quote, “Remove the James Meredith idol at Ole Miss and remove the statue of the Confederate soldier at the university. If you move the Confederate statue, you end the Civil War. If you move the Meredith idol, that ends the black-white race thing.” While these are plausible suggestions, ultimately, they will not solve either problem. In fact, dismantling these monuments would only worsen the situation.
As many are aware, Ukraine’s government recently collapsed, though its demise has been inevitably forthcoming due to social unrest and political turmoil, and some protestors have destroyed several statues of Vladimir Lenin in an attempt to obliterate a prevalent symbol of the Soviet Union. However, the Soviet Union was dissolved more than twenty years ago, so the surviving statues of Lenin seem to serve nothing now save historical significance. In effect, the destruction of these statues seems to mean nothing but a loss to art and history, and has prompted one historian to express his concern by writing an article for The New York Times’ website. In that article, “Smashing Lenin Won’t Save Ukraine,” Justinian A. Jampol, executive director and founder of The Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War in Culver City, Calif., notes that the, “destruction or removal of symbols as a means of national reconciliation, building consensus, or cultivating a new collective memory is rarely successful.” Jampol continues on to say that, overall, the removal of the Lenin statues in Ukraine will not improve the Ukrainians’ situation. Similarly, the removal of the Confederate and James Meredith statues will not improve Ole Miss’ situation.
Today’s University of Mississippi, just like Ukraine, cannot sever its ties with the historical past no matter what landmark it removes, because a landmark does not embody causes; it merely represents them. The effects of the Civil War cannot be ended by dismantling the Confederate soldier, and “the black-white race thing” cannot simply be resolved by removing the James Meredith statue. The cast mold of James Meredith represents a human triumph, and the Confederate soldier is more of a gravestone for the Confederacy than a catalyst through which the Civil War is still living. These landmarks, like the statues of Lenin, serve primarily as physical representations of what once was. The university’s landmarks help identify who Ole Miss was yesterday and how far it has progressed to reach its current state.
The University of Mississippi is an ever-evolving community which, like anything else, relies on its mistakes to guide its future. In essence, these two statues are essential to Ole Miss for the remembrance of its past identity and for the molding of its future identity. To remove the statues would be a crime not only to the University’s history, but also to posterity. We must not make the same mistake as the protesters in Ukraine because, as Jampol writes, “such destruction sometimes makes the process of reconciliation more difficult because the absence of physical reminders within the urban landscape only pushes the invisible psychological scarring further into the recesses — until it erupts.”
Freshman biology major