New Interpretive Plaque at Ole Miss

Ole MissEarlier this year the University of Mississippi announced plans to place an interpretive plaque at the site of the Confederate soldier statue on campus. It created a bit of a buzz on campus and led to the university’s History Department issuing its own alternative interpretation. As indicated in the first link above, I also expressed some concern about the plaque.

The original interpretation reads as follows:

As Confederate veterans were passing from the scene in increasing numbers, memorial associations built monuments in their memory all across the South. This statue was dedicated by citizens of Oxford and Lafayette County in 1906. On the evening of September 30, 1962, the statue was a rallying point where a rebellious mob gathered to prevent the admission of the University’s first African American student. It was also at this statue that a local minister implored the mob to disperse and allow James Meredith to exercise his rights as an American citizen. On the morning after that long night, Meredith was admitted to the University and graduated in August 1963.

This historic structure is a reminder of the University’s past and of its current and ongoing commitment to open its hallowed halls to all who seek truth and knowledge and wisdom.

Today, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter announced that the school will re-interpret the site with the following:

As Confederate veterans were dying in increasing numbers, memorial associations across the South built monuments in their memory. These monuments were often used to promote an ideology known as the “Lost Cause,” which claimed that the Confederacy had been established to defend states’ rights and that slavery was not the principal cause of the Civil War. Residents of Oxford and Lafayette County dedicated this statue, approved by the university, in 1906. Although the monument was created to honor the sacrifice of local Confederate soldiers, it must also remind us that the defeat of the Confederacy actually meant freedom for millions of people. On the evening of September 30, 1962, this statue was a rallying point for opponents of integration.

He went on to say that the “historic statue is a reminder of the university’s divisive past” and that the school “draws from that past a continuing commitment to open its hallowed halls to all who seek truth, knowledge, and wisdom.” I am pleased to see that the work carried out by the department helped to shape this new interpretation.

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10 comments… add one
  • ProfBrian Jun 30, 2016 @ 17:25

    In 1972, just a decade after James Meredith was admitted (at gunpoint) to Ole Miss, I attended the first Chancellor’s Conference on Southern History. Up to that time, my only knowledge of Mississippi was formed by the horrors of the state’s reaction to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, so I fully expected the worst. The conference topic was slavery, and none of the internationally known scholars who read their papers came anywhere close to defending a “lost cause” view of the Civil War. But my biggest surprise came during the time I was walking around the campus. Upon arrival, camera in hand, I was walking past the obligatory Civil War statue (one on campus,, another in the Oxford town square) when I saw a couple walking hand in hand across campus. He was white, she was black, and nobody seemed at all perturbed by the sight. Later the same evening, after another presentation in the seminar, I heard music, so I followed my ears to find a pep rally going on near the student union. The ep band seemed to be racially balanced, half white, half black, on a campus that was at that time less than 6% black. So also the cheerleading squad, which appeared to be a throwback to the 1950s or even earlier—-suede shoes, letter sweaters, even the stereotypical megaphone for one of the cheerleaders. The band was playing “Dixie,” and a black female cheerleader, sitting on the shoulders of a white male, was waving a giant rebel flag in time with the music—-and no one seemed bothered by any of the ironies of the scene. (This was before the university tried to ban the rebel flag.) It was clear to me that Ole Miss had come a long, long way since 1962!

  • David Doggett Jun 30, 2016 @ 14:28

    The new wording is a good start, but could be improved. The next step is to erect adjacent statues of freed slaves, and one for the Union soldiers. Otherwise, this will forever be a biased memorial.

  • hankc9174 Jun 12, 2016 @ 4:01

    and who checks their grammar?

    it should be:

    As Confederate veterans died in increasing numbers, memorial associations across the South built monuments in their memory.


    As Confederate veterans were dying in increasing numbers, memorial associations across the South were building monuments in their memory.

  • Bruce Vail Jun 11, 2016 @ 8:06

    I agree with Sarah. The revised wording isn’t good enough. The committee needs to go back to the drawing board.

    And it is clunky, for Chrissake.

  • Sarah Jun 10, 2016 @ 13:33

    UM grad student here–
    The revised copy is definitely an improvement over the original wording and it’s nice to see that the committee finally agreed to acknowledge the Lost Cause. However, it still ignores several significant points that the faculty statement incorporated and, perhaps more frustratingly, the wording of this revised statement is so clunky that it reads like the committee just smashed parts of the original and the faculty statements together with little real thought. What’s more, Chancellor Vitter–once again–quietly announced the revised wording at noon on a Friday well into the summer semester.

    Needless to say, we’re not exactly thrilled with this concession.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2016 @ 13:36

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for adding your voice. I appreciate your concerns, but in the end I suspect that no one is going to be completely satisfied with the wording. It may help to see this step as part of a much broader push to acknowledge a richer past in our public spaces devoted to the memory of the Civil War.

  • Scott Ledridge Jun 10, 2016 @ 13:26

    That’s great to hear. As I said, I’m glad my presumptions were wrong.

  • Scott Ledridge Jun 10, 2016 @ 13:18

    I’m quite surprised. I would assume Ole Miss probably has a large segment of the faculty and board that buy into the Lost Cause. Glad to see they didn’t get in the way. And glad to see my presumptions squashed.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2016 @ 13:23

      Absolutely not. Their history department includes a number of excellent specialists on the Civil War, slavery, and nineteenth-century history.

    • Boyd Harris Jun 10, 2016 @ 13:45

      The UofM history faculty is pretty much on par with other universities. Your assumption, however, does still apply to some of the student body. In my five years there I personally witnessed several undergrads and graduate students articulate the “moonlights and magnolias” ideal as the primary reason they attended the university. Most of them were out of state and based this assumption on the very publicity that “Ole Miss” spent the better part of the 20th century creating. Needless to say, most of them were disappointed when informed that the Lost Cause was a bunch of bunk created by former slaveholders that lost.

      That all being said, Chancellor Vitter wrapped up his email to the university by reiterating that the administration never planned to change the term “Ole Miss,” in spite of the historical evidence that it was created as a way to honor and remember the good “ole” days during slavery when faithful slaves reverently called the mistress of the plantation “Ole Miss.” Instead, Vitter wrote about how the university has changed the branding of “Ole Miss” and how being a Rebel no longer means honoring Confederate soldiers, but “is used today in a completely different and positive way: to indicate someone who bucks the status quo, an entrepreneur, a trendsetter, a leader.”

      So…this is a good start. But more is needed.

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