Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and the contextualization committee
United States of America

The professional expertise of historians at the University of Mississippi should be utilized in the effort to properly contextualize the Confederate memorial on campus and combat myths about the Confederacy and Mississippi’s past.

Background: On March 11, 2016, the Friday before spring break, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter announced that a new plaque would be installed in front of the Confederate memorial on the University of Mississippi’s campus as part of our “continued implementation of strategies to recognize our history in a balanced and contextual manner.” The text for this plaque had been drafted by a four man contextualization committee and read, in full:

“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.”

Students and faculty immediately objected to this language, which 1) failed to acknowledge slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, 2) ignored the role white supremacy played in shaping the Lost Cause ideology that gave rise to such memorials, and 3) reimagined the continued existence of the memorial on our campus as a symbol of hope. We likewise complained about the lack of transparency that characterized the contextualization committee’s process.

Over spring break, the administration moved forward with the installation of the plaque. The student chapter of the NAACP and the Critical Race Study Group, however, subsequently obtained a meeting with Chancellor Vitter and the contextualization committee, both of whom agreed to reconsider the text they had recommended.

Call for Change: In response, on April 2, 2016, the University of Mississippi’s history faculty submitted their suggestions to Chancellor Vitter and the contextualization committee. Their statement reads as follows:

University of Mississippi History Faculty Statement about the Plaque Recently Installed in front of the Confederate Memorial on Campus

As historians at the University of Mississippi, we call on Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and the contextualization committee convened by Provost Morris Stocks to revise the plaque recently installed in front of the Confederate memorial on our campus.

The Action Plan on Consultant Reports and Update on the Work of the Sensitivity and Respect Committee, which was released in August 2014, recommended that the University “seek suggestions from various interested constituency groups” to “offer more history, putting the past into context, telling more of the story of Mississippi’s struggles with slavery, secession, segregation, and their aftermath."

In our professional judgment, the current plaque does not accomplish this goal. In response to Chancellor Vitter’s March 29th call for suggestions to change the wording of the plaque, we submit the following text, which has been adapted from a template created by the Atlanta History Center for this purpose:

"From the 1870s through the 1920s, memorial associations erected more than 1,000 Confederate monuments throughout the South. These monuments reaffirmed white southerners’ commitment to a “Lost Cause” ideology that they created to justify Confederate defeat as a moral victory and secession as a defense of constitutional liberties. The Lost Cause insisted that slavery was not a cruel institution and – most importantly – that slavery was not a cause of the Civil War. It also conveyed a belief, widely accepted throughout the United States, in white racial supremacy. Campaigns for legally mandated “Jim Crow” segregation and for the disfranchisement of African Americans accompanied celebrations of the Lost Cause; these campaigns often sparked racial violence, including lynching.

Historians today recognize slavery as the central cause of the Civil War and freedom as its most important result. Although deadly and destructive, the Civil War freed four million enslaved southerners and led to the passage of constitutional amendments that promised national citizenship and equal protection of laws, regardless of race. This monument, created in 1906 to recognize the sacrifice of Mississippians who fought to establish the Confederacy as a slaveholding republic, must now remind us that Confederate defeat brought freedom, however imperfect, to millions of people."

We welcome the opportunity to play an active role in our campus’s ongoing efforts to provide historical context for existing symbols and building names on campus.

Mikaëla M. Adams
Jesse Cromwell
Oliver Dinius
Charles W. Eagles
Chiarella Esposito
Lester J. Field, Jr.
Joshua First
Shennette Garrett-Scott
Susan R. Grayzel
Darren E. Grem
Zachary Kagan Guthrie
April Holm
Joshua H. Howard
Vivian Ibrahim
Courtney Kneupper
Marc H. Lerner
Theresa H. Levitt
Rebecca Marchiel
John R. Neff
John Ondrovcik
Ted M. Ownby
Elizabeth A. Payne
Paul J. Polgar
Jarod Roll
Mohammed Bashir Salau
Douglass Sullivan-González
Antoinette Sutto
Nicolas Trépanier
Anne Twitty
Joseph P. Ward
Jeffrey R. Watt
Jessica Wilkerson
Noell Howell Wilson

We, the undersigned, support the expertise of historians and urge Chancellor Vitter and the contexualization committee to properly contextualize the Confederate memorial on the campus of the University of Mississippi.

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The Support Historians' Efforts to Properly Contextualize the Confederate Memorial on Campus petition to Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and the contextualization committee was written by Anne Twitty and is in the category Education at GoPetition.