JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A growing number of Mississippi counties are planning to move Confederate monuments that have stood outside courthouses for more than a century. And the University of Mississippi last week moved a rebel soldier statue that has long been a divisive symbol on the Oxford campus.
Research by University of Mississippi history professor Anne Twitty provides context for understanding the white supremacist message behind the monuments.
In mid-June, Twitty found a detailed newspaper account of the May 10, 1906, dedication ceremony for the rebel soldier statue near the Lyceum, the main administrative building on campus. The speaker was Charles Scott, “a candidate for governor who often campaigned in his Confederate uniform,” Twitty wrote on Twitter.
“In their eyes, Confederate soldiers’ greatest achievement did not come during the Civil War, but rather during Reconstruction, when they ensured, through force of arms, that Black people would remain subjugated,” Twitty wrote.
She transcribed Scott’s speech from the report in the Vicksburg Herald.
“There was a time, I grant you, during the nightmare called the reconstruction, when these men boldly, aggressively and intentionally overrode the letter of the law that they might maintain the spirit of the law and preserve Anglo Saxon civilization as a priceless heritage for their children’s children and for the benefit of our common country, the people of the north as well as the people of the south,” Scott said. “Indeed, do you know that I regard this act as the crowning glory of the Confederate soldier. It overshadows all his brilliant victories on the field of battle.”
Since late May, widespread protests over racial injustice in the United States have focused new attention on the public display of Confederate monuments and other symbols.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says about 780 Confederate monuments and statues stand on public property in the U.S., and at least 50 of those are in Mississippi.
Many of the monuments were put up in the early 20th Century, as groups such as United Daughters of the Confederacy pushed a “Lost Cause” narrative that minimized slavery as a central cause of the Civil War.
After historic votes in the Mississippi Legislature in late June, the state retired a 126-year-old banner that was the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem. A commission will design a new flag that cannot have the emblem and must have the phrase, “In God We Trust.” That lone design will go on the statewide ballot in November.
During the past few weeks, supervisors in Mississippi’s Bolivar, Leflore, Lowndes, Noxubee and Washington counties have voted to move Confederate statues away from courthouses.
Supervisors in Neshoba and Lauderdale counties could consider requests Monday.
A Mississippi law enacted in 2004 says no war monument may be “relocated, removed, disturbed, altered, renamed or rededicated.” But the law also says: “The governing body may move the memorial to a more suitable location if it is determined that the location is more appropriate to displaying the monument.”
Lafayette County supervisors voted unanimously July 6 to leave a Confederate monument outside the old courthouse on the Oxford square, within walking distance of where the similar statue stood on the university campus.
Forrest County supervisors said in June that they will let voters decide in November whether to move a Confederate monument that was donated to the county in 1910.
In Harrison County on the Gulf Coast and in Lee County in northeastern Mississippi, residents have asked supervisors to remove Confederate soldier statues.
Some of the statues could be moved to cemeteries or museums. The one at the university was moved to a site where Confederate soldiers are buried in unmarked graves in a remote corner of campus, behind a former basketball arena.
Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.
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