JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The University of Mississippi’s interim leader, beset by calls from students and faculty to relocate a Confederate soldier monument, announced agreement Thursday that it should be moved from its current location on campus.
Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks issued a statement that he is in discussion with historic preservation officials on moving the monument elsewhere. Student, faculty and staff groups passed resolutions earlier this month asking Sparks to move the monument to a secluded Confederate cemetery on campus.
“Our campus constituents are in alignment, and we agree that the monument should be relocated to a more suitable location,” Sparks wrote in the emailed statement to students, faculty and staff.
Founded in 1848, Ole Miss has worked in fits and starts the past two decades to distance itself from Confederate imagery. Since 2016, Ole Miss has installed plaques to provide historical context about the Confederate monument and about slaves who built some pre-Civil War campus buildings.
Critics who call the monument a symbol of slavery and white supremacy have kept up pressure for its relocation while others insist it remain standing as a key part of Southern history. Similar protests have played out around the country as other Confederate monuments have fallen elsewhere in recent years.
Sparks hadn’t announced until Thursday that he agreed with those calling for relocation of the monument.
College Board trustees, who govern Mississippi’s eight public universities, ultimately must approve moving the monument. They met Thursday without discussing the issue in open session and scheduled their next meeting April 18.
Before any move, the university must also consult with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. An application stating the university’s plan to move the monument was filed Wednesday with the agency and signed by University Architect Ian Banner. Because the monument has been designated a state landmark, the department must approve any changes.
A 2004 Mississippi law says war monuments, including those commemorating the Confederacy, can’t be altered but can be moved to a “more suitable location.” Sparks had previously said the university would develop a justification that the cemetery is a more suitable location for the 1906 structure, but that was not included in Wednesday’s filing.
Sparks wrote that securing approvals will take “some time.”
The monument is part of a historic district that includes a number of buildings including the main administration building, called the Lyceum. The monument is as the entrance to a circular drive that leads to the Lyceum.
The cemetery is in a secluded part of campus and has graves of Confederate soldiers killed at the Battle of Shiloh.
Pro-Confederate groups from outside the university rallied at the statue Feb. 23, and Ole Miss basketball players knelt during the national anthem at a game that day to protest those activities.
Because of a student-led effort, the university in 2015 stopped flying the Mississippi flag, the last state flag to prominently feature the Confederate battle emblem.
The nickname for athletic teams remains the Rebels, but Ole Miss retired its Colonel Reb mascot in 2003. In 1997, administrators banned sticks in the football stadium, which largely stopped people from waving Confederate battle flags. The marching band no longer plays “Dixie.”
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