Ole Miss leader sorry for handling of Confederate statue

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The University of Mississippi chancellor apologized Friday for how he handled the relocation of a Confederate monument that has been a divisive symbol on the Oxford campus, including plans that critics said could create a shrine to Old South.

Workers moved the monument Tuesday from a prominent spot near the university’s main administrative building to a Civil War cemetery in a remote corner of the campus.

A proposal released last month showed headstones being added to unmarked graves of Confederate soldiers, which surprised students and faculty who wanted the statue moved but not turned into an attraction. Chancellor Glenn Boyce said Tuesday that headstones won’t be erected because a recent survey with ground-penetrating radar showed that bodies are buried close to the surface.

“I must acknowledge that some aspects of the execution of this project have not been handled as well as I would have liked,” Boyce said in a statement Friday.

He said he has met during the past two weeks with faculty members and students who expressed concerns about plans to beautify the cemetery, and he takes those seriously.

“I take responsibility and apologize for the concerns that resulted,” Boyce said.

The statue was moved two weeks after Mississippi surrendered the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem.

Boyce said some landscaping will be done in the cemetery, and a sidewalk will be added. He said a group proposed changes to the cemetery will soon meet for the last time.

The University of Mississippi was founded in 1848, and the statue of the soldier was put up in 1906. It was one of many Confederate monuments erected across the South more than a century ago.

Critics say the statue’s location in the heart of campus had sent a signal that Ole Miss glorifies the Confederacy and glosses over the South’s history of slavery.

The state College Board on June 18 approved a plan to move the monument, culminating years of work by students and faculty members who sought the change. The decision happened amid widespread debate over Confederate symbols as people across the U.S. and in other countries loudly marched through the streets to protest racism and police violence against African Americans.

The University of Mississippi has worked for more than 20 years to distance itself from Confederate imagery, often amid resistance from tradition-bound donors and alumni. The nickname for athletic teams remains the Rebels, but the university retired its Colonel Reb mascot in 2003 amid criticism that the bearded old man looked like a plantation owner. 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.”

Because of a student-led effort, the university in 2015 stopped flying the Confederate-themed Mississippi flag. A groundswell of support from business, religious, education and sports leaders recently pushed legislators to retire the flag.

Since 2016, the university has installed plaques to provide historical context about the Confederate monument and about slaves who built some campus buildings before the Civil War.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twittter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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