It’s done. After years of advocacy, several protests, at least four pieces of student and faculty legislation and thousands of signatures, the state Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Board of Trustees voted unanimously and without discussion to relocate the University of Mississippi’s Confederate monument.
The monument currently stands 29 feet tall at the front of the Circle, just under 200 yards away from the emblematic Lyceum. After today’s vote, though, the university will move the marble Confederate soldier and his contextualization plaque to the Confederate cemetery behind the Tad Smith Coliseum. University administration has not yet released a plan for when they will physically move the monument.
“I feel relieved,” Associated Student Body president Joshua Mannery said. “It feels good to finally be able to think about other things. I felt a lot of pressure, and I’m sure a lot of people at the university did with getting this thing moved.”
The movement for the relocation to the cemetery began in spring 2019 when a bipartisan group of eight students — Katie Dames, John Chappell, Jarvis Benson, Charlotte Armistead, Arielle Hudson, Leah Davis, Tyler Yarbrough and Dalton Hull — authored a resolution that passed unanimously in the Associated Student Body Senate.
Benson, president of the Black Student Union at the time, called the resolution’s passage “a big moment, especially for African American students” at the University of Mississippi.
Following that March night, all other faculty and student governing bodies quickly passed similar resolutions, and support for relocation arose from then-interim Chancellor Larry Sparks, Athletics Director Keith Carter and other university officials. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which has to authorize changes to historic sites, signed off on the relocation in December.
The university’s last step to relocate the monument was obtaining approval from IHL, which was originally set to occur at the Board of Trustees’s January meeting. However, the vote was tabled after a motion from IHL Trustee Tom Duff, who requested more information regarding the condition of the Confederate cemetery on campus. Today, Duff voted in favor.
Relocating the Confederate monument is now the most recent in a long list of actions that University of Mississippi leadership has taken over the past several decades in an attempt to separate the university from its contentious history. From ending the tradition of waving Confederate flags in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, to retiring Colonel Reb as the university mascot, to removing the state flag from campus and other contextualization efforts that followed, symbols of the Confederacy have gradually been removed from the Ole Miss campus.
“At each juncture, it takes either a horrible incident or some real bold leadership to make these things happen,” former assistant provost and longtime professor Donald Cole previously told The Daily Mississippian about the university’s history with confronting Confederate symbols.
The IHL’s approval comes at a time when the nation is not only overwrought by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but also filled with protests against racial inequality after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.
These protests have led to the removal of many Confederate monuments and memorials around the country, notably including three plaques at the University of Alabama that commemorate students who served in the Confederate army. The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the University of Mississippi’s Confederate monument in 1906 for similar reasons.
“I think this is a great learning opportunity for the community and all of Mississippi,” Black Student Union President Nicholas Crasta said. “Honestly, we’re tired of seeing symbols of bigotry, symbols of hate. It’s 2020. It’s a new decade, and with everything going on, people really have the time to think and to check their peers, their friends, their family members and change their mindsets and their implicit biases.”
Crasta, along with 10 other leaders of the largest student organizations on the Ole Miss campus, began a petition exactly one week ago that urged the IHL Board of Trustees to vote on relocation today. By the time of the meeting, the #UMoveTheStatue petition had over 5,200 signatures.
With the Confederate monument officially moving, Mannery said ASB and other student organizations are looking forward to putting pressure on the university administration to make “more changes that they have control over.”
“(Relocation) is not a significant step forward, but it’s a sign,” Mannery said. “How can we get a more diverse staff? What can we do to improve the way we react to freedom of speech issues? How can we make campus more equitable? It’s things like those that we don’t have to wait for the IHL to make a teleconference vote on, things we can do tangibly now.”