Repair work began Monday on the Confederate soldier statue that a pickup truck crashed into last month.
Ryan Whittington, assistant director of public relations for social media strategy for the university, released a statement about the repairs earlier this week.
The repairs to the base of the statue will cost $4,500 and the cost to replace the contextualization plaque will be $6,337.00.
No public funds will be used to repair the statue or the plaque, Whittington told The Daily Mississippian.
“The university is exploring potential legal options to recover the cost of damages from the driver of the vehicle in the incident,” Whittington said. “If that course of action is unsuccessful, private, unrestricted funds from the University of Mississippi Foundation would be utilized.”
A structural stability evaluation determined the statue did not sustain any structural damage, according to the statement. He said the base of the statue only suffered cosmetic damage, but the contextualization plaque and its base were damaged beyond repair.
“A new plaque has been ordered and will be installed upon receipt, which is expected to occur before Oct. 20,” Whittington said.
The university expects to complete all the repairs within the next couple weeks.
Students Against Social Injustice and the UM NAACP released a statement Tuesday criticizing the university’s decision to repair the statue.
“The repair and continued display of this monument by the University of Mississippi will be viewed as a disregard for the safety and inclusion of Black students, staff, and faculty,” the statement read.
Taia McAfee, SASI president and UM NAACP secretary, said that when she first heard about the repairs, she was angry and disappointed. She, SASI secretary Em Gill and UM NAACP president JoJo Brown decided to take this opportunity to write a statement sharing the voices of both groups.
“We felt that, to show the power of the students, we were going to release a joint one,” McAfee said.
She said the university seems to be moving very swiftly to complete this project, so now was the opportune time to speak up.
“Students have been fighting for this since before I came to this university, and I felt like it was very timely and necessary for us to release a statement,” McAfee said.
Brown said the UM NAACP does not support the Confederate soldier statue being in the center of campus.
“It’s not a good look,” Brown said. “That’s really what the drive was for making this statement.”
Brown said releasing a statement allowed the voices of the students in SASI and UM NAACP to be heard.
“We’re using this opportunity to make this space on campus more welcome, more comfortable,” Brown said. “A lot of things that happen here happen on other campuses, but because of the history, because of the past, anything that happens on University of Mississippi’s campus is exemplified because of our history.”
She said that for the university to move the statue to the Confederate cemetery on campus or to a museum would be a big success and an opportunity for the university to continue its movement and progression towards diversity and change on campus.
“The University of Mississippi is always stressing how it’s a family,” Brown said. “Families eat dinner at the same table together, and if everybody’s not eating, then how is it a family? It’s a big deal to me that everyone is comfortable.”
Ole Miss administrators have seen the statement and are working to arrange a meeting with representatives from both SASI and UM NAACP, according to Whittington.
The Confederate soldier statue and its contextualization plaque, which have recently been the center of many debates relating to Confederate monuments in Oxford, were damaged when a truck crashed into the statue the night of Sept. 16. The driver, Coty Pierce Lewis, was charged with driving under the influence, expired tag, no proof of liability insurance and no driver’s license. Neither Lewis nor the passenger in the truck with him at the time of the crash was a current or former student or employee of the university.
The University Police Department has released a statement saying nothing indicated that the accident was intentional.
The statue was erected in the Circle in 1906, dedicated by Oxford and Lafayette County citizens. The Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context, established by Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter to help add context to campus sites and buildings, led the effort to place a contextualization plaque in front of the statue. The plaque was placed in March 2016.
– Lana Ferguson