Thursday, August 29, 2019
The University of Mississippi said Wednesday that it's moving ahead with plans to transfer a Confederate soldier monument from its central location on campus to a spot near a secluded Confederate cemetery.
In an email sent to students, faculty and staff, interim Chancellor Larry Sparks wrote that the university submitted plans Tuesday to take down, move and reassemble the monument.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History must review and approve the university's plans . College Board trustees, who govern Mississippi's eight public universities, must also approve the move.
Sparks agreed in March to calls from faculty, students and staff to move the marble soldier and base from near the school's historic heart. The monument has stood sentry there since 1906, when the United Daughters of the Confederacy commissioned it.
The monument is 29 feet (8.8 meters) tall and weighs 40,000 pounds (18,000 kilograms). Plans call for moving it outside a cemetery in a less prominent area of the Oxford campus that holds graves of Confederate soldiers killed at the battle of Shiloh. A new concrete walkway would be built leading to the cemetery, with the monument installed along it.
Founded in 1848, the university has worked in fits and starts the past two decades to distance itself from Confederate imagery. Since 2016, Ole Miss has installed plaques to provide historical context about the monument and about slaves who built some pre-Civil War campus buildings.
Critics who call the monument a symbol of slavery and white supremacy have pressed for its relocation while others insist it remain standing as a key part of Southern history.
Pro-Confederate groups from outside the university rallied at the statue Feb. 23, calling in part for its preservation, and Ole Miss men's basketball players knelt during the national anthem at a game that day to protest those activities. Some conservative political groups in Mississippi are pushing for Ole Miss to stop making changes to Confederate symbols.
Similar protests have played out around the country as other Confederate monuments have fallen in recent years, including on some college campuses, following the 2015 racially motivated massacre at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter had posted pictures of himself with a Confederate battle flag on social media.
A 2004 Mississippi law says war monuments, including those commemorating the Confederacy, can't be altered. But they can be moved to a "more suitable location." Sparks echoed that language in his email.
"I reiterate that this will place the monument in a more suitable location, one that is commensurate with the purpose that is etched on its side," Sparks wrote, referring to an inscription that reads in part, "To our Confederate dead."
Plans released Wednesday call for placing a 10-foot-high (3-meter-high) screened fence around the current monument while it is disassembled, with university police officers providing security. Plans propose taking the monument down and moving it on a single truck in one day, and then reassembling it in two more days.
The plaque discussing the monument's historical context is supposed to travel with it. The plans call for 90 days to complete the whole project, including building the new walkway, with proposals from contractors to be received by Oct. 30. It's unclear if the university will have approval to start by then.