OPINION: Letter to the Editor: The statue does not represent Oxford

Posted on Mar 6 2019 - 5:50am by Ryan Oehrli

Two weeks ago, as neo-Confederates marched on campus, students left town in fear for their safety. This newspaper reported that one student wondered “whether I should continue to go to Ole Miss” because “I feel like they don’t want black people here.” It’s unacceptable that white supremacists felt more entitled to our campus than an actual student.

But as history shows, this isn’t new. The statue has been used to threaten and insult black students for decades.

When James Meredith arrived in 1962, the statue became a beacon for white supremacists looking to inflict pain. More than 300 people were injured, and two were killed that Sunday night and the following morning. It was blandly dubbed “the Ole Miss riot of 1962.”

Fifty years later, when a mob of white students protested former president Barack Obama’s re-election, embarrassment followed. Campaign signs were burned, racist slurs were yelled and again our school was a national headline reading “riot.” There’s no doubt whether Confederate glorification helped or hurt that cause. It helped just like it did when Austin Edenfield and Graeme Phillip Harris hung a noose around James Meredith’s monument five years ago. Accompanying the noose was the old Georgia flag with the stars and bars.

These are highly publicized examples, but they are no more concerning than innumerable testimonies from black students who walk past the statue every day.

We know why white supremacists came here last month. The statue gives them a perceived stake in Ole Miss. Even though they have no knowledge of who we are beyond the Confederate symbolism on our campus, they believe it is their turf.

It’s time for students — especially white students who’ve been silent — to say enough is enough and pressure the university to end this cycle of hatred and embarrassment. We cannot continue to watch crises emerge every few years, followed by shame, and shake our heads in disbelief until the cycle repeats itself. The statue and other Confederate iconography are symbols of hate. Naturally, they draw hatred.

There is plenty to love about Oxford. The statue does not represent those things. It’s essential that it be moved.

Ryan Oehrli is a junior political science major from Washington, North Carolina. He’s the vice president of Solidarity.