University of Mississippi removes Confederate statue from heart of campus

The school plans to move the statue to a small cemetery on campus, which will be refurbished in a move critics say creates a "shrine" to the Confederacy.
Image: Confederate soldier statue University of Mississippi
A monument to Confederate soldiers was being removed Tuesday from the University of Mississippi's central circle in Oxford.Andrea Morales / for NBC News

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By Phil McCausland

The University of Mississippi began taking down a 30-foot Confederate statue Tuesday, more than a year after students, faculty and staff elected to remove the monument from the heart of the school's campus.

Mississippi's flagship university, known as Ole Miss, received permission last month from the state education board to move the statue to a Confederate graveyard in a less visible part of campus.

The university hoped to have the statue taken down completely by the end of Tuesday, Mississippi Today reported.

But the decision to move the statue to the cemetery — an apparent compromise between students and the administration — drew fresh ire after a rendering of its new home was released.

The university plans to spend $1.15 million to relocate the monument to a small, largely forgotten cemetery behind an old basketball stadium. The rendering appears to show the addition of a brick path, a stone bench before the statue, a number of new headstones and a series of other steps to beautify the space.

Critics say that while the school is moving the statue as promised, it is ultimately building a "shrine" to the Confederacy in the process.

Glenn Boyce, the university's chancellor, in responding to the criticism in a letter to the university community last month, stated that elements of the rendering were misleading and added that the plans should not have appeared to state that students, faculty and staff had all endorsed the additions to the cemetery.

"This is clearly an error and I will clarify this with the Board of Trustees," Boyce wrote.

But students were not convinced.

"The thing is, it was so blatant of a lie," Joshua Mannery, the president of the student government, told NBC News. "Our language was crystal clear. Nobody said anything about doing that."

The chancellor and university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The statue was originally placed at the center of campus by the Daughters of Confederate Veterans in 1906, during the Jim Crow era when Black voters were disenfranchised and racial segregation was reinforced. During the 1962 race riots that occurred after Ole Miss was forced by the federal government to desegregate, the monument was used as a rallying point by a white mob formed to prevent the entrance of the school's first Black student.

As criticism over the statue grew in recent years, Ole Miss tried to provide context for it by adding a plaque on the Confederacy, though the language had to be rewritten more than once when it did not mention slavery.

History professors at the university who were tasked with scrutinizing the statue and its history wrote in 2016 that as a "physical embodiment of Lost Cause-era white southern nationalism, our monument also reinforced white supremacy, which reigned in Mississippi and other southern states after the rights Black southerners had won during the Civil War and Reconstruction were dismantled."

When the student government voted unanimously to remove the statue in March 2019, hopes were high about what the change could mean for the campus.

“I started crying when I knew we had the majority vote," Leah Davis, a junior psychology major from Tupelo, Mississippi, who is Black and helped write the resolution, told NBC News at the time. "It was really powerful to me the fact that the Senate voted unanimously.”

But after the recent debate, there is still concern that Ole Miss will pivot from what was promised.

"I think we attend a university that is constantly at war with itself," Mannery, who is Black, said. "For every step we take as the University of Mississippi community to move forward, the school either decides to do something else or enable something else entirely."