Behind a wall of Confederate battle flags and politically charged signs, the statue stands clasping a musket and casting his gaze down the streets of Oxford’s Square.
Roughly a mile away, another stone soldier of the Confederacy peers down University Avenue from his pedestal on the Ole Miss Circle, awaiting the arrival of the day’s events amidst a heavy presence of university officials and University Police officers.
University Avenue transformed into a place of public demonstration on Saturday as protesters and counterprotesters took to the streets to argue whether the two statues stand for heritage or hate.
James Brock is a member of the Hiwaymen. He has traveled across the United States advocating for the preservation of Confederate monuments.
Brock sees the push to remove the statues as a push to remove American history.
“Us being called racists, you know, they use that as a weapon against us without even knowing who we are,” Brock said as he walked from the Square to campus.
Another prominent leader of the demonstration and of Confederate 901, George “K-Rack” Johnson, issued a statement to his followers prior to their walk encouraging members to remain respectful and respond with “God bless.”
Still, the words “Go back to Kenya” spilled out across the 150-foot buffer zone between the protesters and counterprotesters.
Cristen Hemmins, the president of the Lafayette County Democratic Party, said the pro-Confederate groups present a false narrative in place of the whole truth.
Hemmins said she doesn’t believe the statue should be up at all but would accept its being moved to a cemetery instead of its current prominent position in the center of town.
Brock maintains otherwise. He believes the media has created a false narrative about his group, saying they are white supremacists and citing the use of fear-mongering to push an agenda.
He claims that racist individuals are not tolerated in the group. However, he acknowledged their presence.
“We’ve had several (racist individuals) come to our events,” Brock said. “We stopped the event and told them, ‘Y’all have to leave, you can’t come here.’”
The pro-Confederate protester who started the “Go back to Kenya” cheer was not asked to leave the demonstration in the Circle on Saturday by any of the groups’ leaders.
Brock said that when white nationalists and the Ku Klux Klan carry the Confederate flag around during demonstrations, it demonizes pro-Confederate groups.
“It’s not us that the media will pick up on, it’s them. And that’s why we do speak out against the other groups,” Brock said.
He claims that there is a “battle of definitions” going on in the country, and because the flag has been defined as a symbol of racism and white supremacy by its use in the KKK, the message of heritage and culture preservation he and his group’s members are trying to convey has been tainted.
For those who stand against Confederate symbols, the heritage that the Hiwaymen are trying to preserve is a heritage of hate.
“They are trying to intimidate and scare people,” Hemmins said. “These people were talking about bringing their guns and saying, ‘Try me,’ with their hats and stuff. They wanted us to be scared.”
Brock and Hemmins agreed that progress toward a dialogue between the groups would be difficult to achieve.
“I think dialogue is becoming farther and farther apart,” Brock said. “I am one of those ones that never says it’s too late.”
Hemmins wasn’t as optimistic about the prospect of reconciliation.
“Sitting down with them? Sadly, I feel like they’re probably a lost cause,” Hemmins said. “I don’t think there’s anything to say that could change their perspective, so it would just be a waste of my time.”
Check out our full coverage of the weekend protests here.