by Dr. Ed DeVries
Rather than tear down the monuments to its “Confederate” and “Southern” past, The University of Mississippi has chosen instead to perpetually apologize for them.
In an effort to “contextualize” the history of the school that was founded in 1848, six plaques were recently unveiled by University Chancellor Jeffrey Vitterin a ceremony at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Artson the University’s main campus in Oxford.
“These plaques are daily reminders of our obligation to learn from the past and commit to an inclusive future,” the Ole Miss Chancellor said while announcing the plaques.
The first four plaques apologize for the Barnard Observatory, Lamar Hall, Longstreet Hall and George Hall being named for Confederate leaders.
The fifth plaque apologizes for the fact that ten of the University’s original buildings were constructed with the assistance of slave laborers. Three of them, including the Old Chapel (now Croft) and the Lyceum (the University’s main administrative building)are still in use today.
“Slavery was a system underpinned by exploitation and violence, and slaves also suffered beatings and other abuses documented in University records,” the plaque says. “The University of Mississippi today honors the legacy of these enslaved individuals and acknowledges the injustices under which they lived and labored.”
The plaque also calls attention “The Hilgard Cut” and says that “a large number of slaves” were used to cut through hills near the campus in 1856 and 1857 to make way for a railroad line, and that the slave owners received railroad company stock.
The final plaque, near the stained-glass Tiffany windows in Ventress Hall, minimizes the sacrifices of the University Greys, a War Between the States company immortalized in the windows that was composed primarily University of Mississippi students. The Greys suffered 100 percent casualties in the War for Southern Independence. The plaque would have us believe that these brave men gave their lives to perpetuate slavery.
George Hall, which now houses a speech and hearing center, was named in 1920 for James Zachariah George, who served Mississippi in the U.S. Senate from 1890 until his death in 1897. The plaque at George Hall apologizes for the fact that Senator George served as a delegate to Mississippi’s Secession Convention and falsely claims that as the state’s Democratic Party executive committee chairman in 1875-76, he was responsible for “a program of voter intimidation, violent repression, and riot aimed at returning his state to white Democratic rule.”
The effort to erect these six plaques began in 2016 when the school added a plaque providing information about “slavery and the Civil War” to a Confederate soldier statue that has been on campus since 1906.
In addition to placing the plaques around the campus, the University also announced that it is in the process of renaming Vardaman Hall because the chancellor’s committee determined that James K. Vardaman, a former Mississippi governor and U.S. senator, was “a virulent white supremacist.” Giving the “keynote” address at the plaque unveiling ceremony, Dr. John Neff, director of the Center for Civil War Research, spoke of the reasoning behind the decision to rename Vardaman Hall when he said that:
“By contextualizing these important aspects of our campus, we emphasize the distance we have traveled between our time and theirs…Keep in mind, less than a century ago, individuals at the university proudly placed on one of our buildings the name of a man, a virulent racist, who once advocated to his white voters that if necessary, he would lynch every black man and woman in this state.The publically funded school has also stopped flying the State’s flag because it includes the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue tilted cross dotted by 13 white stars. Adopted by the State of Mississippi in 1894 and reconfirmed by the State’s voters in 2001, the University leadership has branded the State flag as a “racist symbol.”
Black students made up about 13 percent of the Ole Miss enrollment in 2015, the most recent year for which detailed figures were available. Chancellor Vitter says that the University has lowered its flag and is “providing historical context for Old South symbols as a way to acknowledge its complex history” and to make the 13% “feel more welcome.”
- Visit www.dixieheritage.net for a free copy of Dr. Ed’s book The Truth About the Confederate Battle Flag.