Civil War Memory at Ole Miss

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on the student video about some of the challenges surrounding the place of Confederate memory at the University of Mississippi.  I wanted to share the following comment from Boyd Harris, who is a PhD student in history at Ole Miss:

Thank you for posting this video, Kevin. I am a third year PhD student at the University of Mississippi. Needless to say, this is not the first time I have seen this video. The legacy of slavery, the war, and racism is very apparent on the campus landscape. We have a Confederate cemetery (right behind the basketball stadium) and several statues and markers commemorating the Civil War. The Lyceum (the oldest building on campus) has visible bullet holes from the 1962 riot, when James Meredith needed the National Guard to just register for classes. Even the name “Ole Miss,” which was created in the early 20th century and is a variation on what slaves called the mistress of the plantation denotes the South’s racialized past.

But let me tell you about the students. A lot of the conversation about this video has dealt with Hannah Loy’s views. Have I met people like that here? You bet, but they are in a quickly growing minority. Teaching the American history surveys (History 105/106) has provided me with ample opportunity to observe discussions about slavery, racism, and the Civil War. What amazes me every semester is the eagerness of the students to talk about these complex and difficult topics. The students bring their own observations and biases to the conversation, but more importantly, they also bring a desire to gain further knowledge about their past. I never have to prod my students to discuss these issues. I mostly take on the role of moderator in order to ensure an open and safe environment for these discussions.

I wish I could say that we change everyone’s mind, but of course that is not true. What I can say, however, is that I am seeing progress at the University of Mississippi. In the past two years I have seen Colonel Reb discontinued as the mascot and James Silver honored at the university that shunned him fifty years ago. This year the William Winters’ Institute for Racial Reconciliation will operate a tent in the Grove on game weekends. The goal is to challenge the long held view of African Americans that the Grove is a Whites-only space. Progress will be slow, after all this is Mississippi, but I have witnessed first hand the possibility of change at the University.

Boyd’s comment reminds us of the importance of the generational divide that shapes how Americans remember the Civil War.  The standard narrative can be found in this recent news article that described the sesquicentennial in Mississippi as “angst-filled.”  No doubt, you can find a great deal of strong emotions there, but we should not lose sight of the fact that young Americans are much more open to talking about some of the more difficult questions in an open and honest manner.  I saw this first-hand as a history teacher in Virginia.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

8 comments… add one
  • Steve Sep 21, 2016 @ 5:06

    As a Yankee who spent considerable time in Oxford and the south I’m troubled by the infestation of political correctness. In hindsight we may condem the cause of the south but it is morally reprehensible to denigrate the principled men who fought for what they believed in.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 21, 2016 @ 5:56

      The men who fought for the Confederacy did so for any number of reasons. They all, however, fought for a nation that was pledged to establish an independent slaveholding republic. We ought to be grateful that they failed.

      • Steve Sep 21, 2016 @ 6:30

        Isn’t the luxury of judging history through today’s lens comforting. Unfortunately the truth can get in the way. Slavery was an issue but confederate men were not fighting and dying for the institution of slavery. Most owned no slaves. Even northerners and Lincoln did not intend to mandate the end of slavery initially. If one studies history one knows that anti slavery northerners were not abolitionists. They believed that slavery would some day end because southern states chose to end it. History has been rewritten so as to vilify the confederate states, their culture and their cause. Sometimes it is good for objective learners to look beyond the myopic talking points they are fed by government schools.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 21, 2016 @ 6:46

          Your comment suggests that you have never read a wartime letter from a Confederate soldier. They are filled with references to slavery. I suggest you read my book on the battle of the Crater, which took place in July 1864. I include numerous references to Confederates – slaveowners and non-slaveowners alike – who responded to the presence of black men in Union uniform and its implications for the war.

          The rest of your comment is irrelevant to your point.

  • Rusty Reeves Dec 22, 2012 @ 15:32

    The blood of my ancestors lay in those graves behind the Tad PAd, I shall never turn my back on them. they owned no slaves and were fighting for their land and family. Nothing more. Take your shame back to CNN.

  • Brad Aug 28, 2012 @ 11:38

    That was an eloquent message from Mr. Harris. Makes you feel good about our future educators. Thanks for sharing it with us.


    • Kevin Levin Aug 28, 2012 @ 11:49

      I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the comment.

  • Doug didier Aug 28, 2012 @ 8:08

    Wonder what message the KKK is sending here..

    Check out this video on YouTube:

    KKK Protest and Anti Hate Counter Rally at Ole Miss LSU Game 2009

    This is the protest and counter rally, both pretty much in their entirety.
    NOVEMBER 21, 2009

    The Mississippi White Knights of the KKK held a protest at the Ole Miss/LSU game because the chancellor of Ole Miss stopped the band from playing a song called “From Dixie With Love.” The song is a medley of “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Rebuplic.” At the end of the song during the game, some students chant “The South Will Rise Again,” instead of the last line of the song.

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