Dozens of university community members marched from the Grill at 1810 to the Confederate cemetery in opposition of the university’s “proposed plans for the renovation of the Confederate cemetery” on Monday afternoon.
Organized by student leaders from the #UMoveTheStatue campaign and members of the new Alumni Action Network, protesters included undergraduate students like Associated Student Body (ASB) president Joshua Mannery and ASB vice president Abby Johnston, alumni like Leah Davis and Arielle Hudson and faculty members like associate professor of sociology James Thomas.
All of whom were present to portray one message to Chancellor Glenn Boyce and other university administration: “We need to abandon the plans to move the statue,” one organizer Brianna Simms said.
On June 18, when the state Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) voted to approve the university’s proposal to relocate the Confederate monument that Boyce sent to them, the plan included a renovation of the Confederate cemetery to make it “a more suitable location on campus.” This renovation involves adding a new marker to recognize the men from Lafayette County as part of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War and new headstones for those buried in the cemetery. These are the plans that the group protests.
In 90 degree heat, the crowd marched less than half a mile down Manning Way chanting mantras of “Relocation, not glorification” and “Abandon the plan.” Several student athletes stood outside of the Manning Center to raise their fists in solidarity, and one Black construction crew member did the same from behind the walls of the cemetery.
“We are here today because in a time where people across our country are screaming Black Lives Matter, Chancellor (Glenn) Boyce has shown us that he doesn’t give a damn about our voice,” senior public policy major Tyler Yarbrough said. “By proposing to build a million-dollar shrine to white supremacy in this very spot, Chancellor Boyce has blatantly disregarded the lives of Black students, Black faculty, Black staff and Black alumni.”
Organizers used the phones of former Black Student Union president Arielle Hudson and ASB president Mannery to call Boyce and Provost Noel Wilkin while the protest ensued. Neither answered.
As the protesters marched up to the police line on Coliseum Loop that blocks off the entrance to the cemetery, Yarbrough, Simms and several others attempted to walk past it, stating their “right to protest.” University Police officers and Wood Security guards promptly stopped them, and other protesters tore down the police tape.
“At one point, we asked, ‘Do we want to keep walking?’ and Arielle (Hudson) mentioned the officers might pull out a taser or something, so we didn’t want to endanger anybody,” Mannery said.
Instead of advancing further, the crowd kneeled, some with their hands up, and entered into an 8 minute and 46 second long moment of silence to honor those who have died at the hands of police brutality.
The three security guards and eight police officers, including Chief Ray Hawkins, stood by in silence.
As the group rose and chants of “What’s outrageous? Racist values. What’s disgusting? Racist statues” began.
“Trust me, (Boyce and Wilkin) know that we’re here,” recent graduate Leah Davis said. “If we have to come back here next week, we’re going to keep coming back next week.”
Mannery said the group is hoping that Boyce will respond to the calls for changing the relocation plan by the end of this week, and if he doesn’t, the protests will continue.