A statement from the Center for the Study of Southern Culture in support of student efforts about the Confederate monument, March 6, 2019
As director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, I support the resolution by the Associated Student Body and Graduate Student Council to move the university’s Confederate monument away from the circle to a spot in the Confederate cemetery. Students have been persistent, creative, thoughtful, and convincing, and the counter-protest by right-wing groups was just the most recent event to dramatize why moving the statue is a good idea for the university.
The topic reminds me of photographs from March 1989 in The Southern Register, the Center’s newsletter. The CSSC and the Law School were hosting a symposium on The Civil Rights Movement and the Law, and right-wing protestors led by a white nationalist held an event condemning the event. In the photographs one can see students, staff members, and faculty members counter-protesting with signs that read “Racism Has No Place Here,” “Stop Racism Now,” and “Stop Hatred Today.” One picture shows those protestors supporting the visit of John Doar, a U.S. Justice Department official who had walked on campus with James Meredith in 1962.
Those photographs, with demands about what to do “Now” and “Today,” are 30 years old. In the decades since then, students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the CSSC have addressed university issues about racism in numerous ways, sometimes helping to lead them, sometimes following and supporting, sometimes teaching and writing about them. A lot of colleagues, students, and alumni feel special frustration with the Confederate statue because it blurs the line between what we study and what the university honors and celebrates. While we try our best to teach about and study all parts of the American South, to include all groups and all perspectives, and to expand the range of questions we ask, having a statue to Confederate soldiers in a place of honor gives the Confederacy a place literally above all other topics. To some people in 2019, as in 1989, as in 1906 when the statue was built, it suggests that the university is a place to retrieve or relive privileges they associate with the cause of Confederate soldiers.
Ted Ownby, Director, Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi