The University of Mississippi has begun installation of a plaque offering historical context to a Confederate statue that it chose to retain on its Oxford campus, school officials announced.
Situated at the center of the campus, the statue of a Confederate soldier has been a divisive reminder of the state’s past—a past some say should be remembered and others say should be erased. Erected in 1906, the memorial was a rallying point for a seething mob who on Sept. 30, 1962, sought to prevent the admission of the university’s first African-American student, James Meredith.
“There are strong feelings on both sides. Our task was not an easy one,” said Andy Mullins of the University of Mississippi in an interview with WAPT-TV. He added of the school’s decision, “Well, this is a part of university history, and rather than trying to tear down our history, remove our history, we put it in historical context.”
The statue’s new inscription acknowledges the state’s racist history and concludes, “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.”
Officials said a lot of thought went into the wording of the engraving.
“Our university has worked hard to recognize our history while also living up to our promise as one of America’s most hospitable, welcoming and inclusive institutions,” Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter said in a statement. “The placement of this plaque puts this statue into proper context and affirms, as in our UM Creed, our respect for the dignity of each person.”
The plaque is part of a process the university began in 2014 to recalibrate its image by removing, renaming or contextualizing controversial symbols on campus. The effort began after a series of racist incidents, including the hanging of a noose around the neck of a statue of the school’s first Black enrollee in February 2014.