University of Mississippi student leaders unanimously voted Tuesday to move a Confederate statue from its spot at the center of the campus to a cemetery on school grounds, less than two weeks after pro-Confederate protesters rallied on campus.
The graduate student government had already passed a similar resolution on Monday. Next, the statue’s relocation will have to be approved by college administrators.
Thanks to a leadership vacuum at the university, some students are hopeful for change. The school’s chancellor, Jeff Vitter, announced his resignation in November and stepped down on January 3. He has not yet been replaced. According to NBC News, student organizers saw the gap as an opportune time to try to relocate the statue.
During the school’s last search for a chancellor in 2015, students successfully took down the Mississippi state flag, which students and faculty said made some students feel unwelcome due to its Confederate emblem.
“The Confederate statue represents history hidden in plain sight — we accept the values of Confederacy each time we walk past it with ambivalence,” Katie Dames, chairman of the student government senate committee of inclusion and cross-cultural engagement, told the Clarion Ledger in an email. “We can do so much better as a university, and the passage of this resolution proves that.”
Two weeks ago, two groups, The Hiwaymen and Confederate 901, organized a pro-Confederate rally at the university to oppose the removal of the statue from campus. The crowd of approximately 100 people who gathered for the rally began by thanking Southern plantation owners for teaching “heathen” black people about Christianity. There were about 50 counter-protesters present, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
Although Billy Sessions of The Hiwaymen claimed that the pro-Confederate rally was not about racism, the group was also present at the 2017 Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia — where a neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd, killing a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, and injuring many others.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy donated the statue to the university in 1906.
An increasing number of student-led fights in recent years have pushed to rid campuses of memorials and statues of Confederates, and to rename buildings commemorating slaveowners and white supremacists.
In 2017, for instance, Yale University announced it would change the name of Calhoun College to instead honor Grace Murray Hopper, who was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer during World War II and who helped develop the Mark II and Mark III computers. Calhoun College was originally named for John C. Calhoun, a vice president, senator, and secretary of state who called slavery a “positive good.” The fight to change the school’s name had been going on for years, but gathered renewed steam after a black cafeteria worker was arrested for breaking a window at the school’s dining hall that depicted a scene of slaves carrying cotton bales.
In 2015, Georgetown University students were successful in their fight to rename two buildings on campus named after slaveowners. The buildings were provided with interim names in 2015 and officially renamed in 2017 for Isaac Hawkins, whose name is listed first on a bill of sale of the enslaved men and women whom Maryland Jesuits sold to eliminate the university’s debts, and Anne Marie Becraft, a black 19th-century educator.
Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have been fighting to remove a statue known as Silent Sam, a Confederate monument that has stood on the campus since 1913. Over the past several years, students have protested against the statue, holding signs reading, “Stop pretending racism is patriotism.” Protesters toppled the statue last August.
In response to these protests, a university safety panel last December suggested upgrading law enforcement capabilities, including created a “mobile force” that would cost about $2 million a year and requires $500,000 in equipment. It recommended the Silent Sam statue, which it called an “important artifact,” be placed in a “university history center” that would cost $5.3 million to build. The UNC Board of Governors rejected the expensive plan, saying the committee should work on a new approach. The board was going to look at those new recommendations this month, but the deadline has been pushed back to May, WRAL reported.