Confederate Protesters Oppose Ole Miss’s Approach to PastBy Sandra Knispel | Published 10 Aug 2014 10:17pm |
Oxford, Miss., Aug. 11, 2014 -- Confederate demonstrators marched in Oxford over the weekend to protest the University of Mississippi’s treatment of its own history.
Thirty-five people turned up at the Kroger parking lot on Saturday morning for a march on downtown Oxford, via the historic Square and on to campus. While the group itself was small, its large Confederate flags and signage attracted attention with some passing cars honking and one woman leaning out of her SUV to shout: “You make us look worse.” The vast majority, however, tried to ignore the elephant in the room. The march was prompted, among other things, by the university’s treatment of its Confederate past.
“People in the South should be proud. They should be so proud if they knew the type [of] men that were in the Confederacy. And we haven’t seen men like them since probably the Spartans in the 300. Phenomenal. And our people grow up and our kids [are] ashamed, not knowing the truth,” says Debbie Sidle with a group called the Mid-South Flaggers, one of the organizers.
While the marchers’ agenda appeared a bit muddled – a small pamphlet railed against political correctness as cultural Marxism and next decried the “Jones agenda” – referring to recently announced changes at the University of Mississippi to address its racist past -- while other participants were actively advocating for Mississippi to secede from the Union.
“We are here first and foremost for the soldiers who died defending this state when they were invaded," Sidle explained. "Secondly, we are here for our freedoms. We shouldn’t have to have a permit to peacefully assemble on a public sidewalk. We are here because everybody lost in that war. And we are here because if we had sovereign states we wouldn’t have a big central government.”
On the sidewalk, Debbie Nelson, a mother of five grown children greeted the marchers with a friendly Hotty Toddy. Nelson, who has returned to Ole Miss to study for a bachelor’s degree in education, had taken her youngest son along to see the march.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for people to express how they feel about a flag being used as a hate symbol when they also have the opportunity to remember the history.”
By the time the marchers reached the Square, where on the Courthouse lawn a children’s fair was in full swing, Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson did not hide his anger:
“When I see a march like this I try to ignore it. But you know, on behalf of the community I think they can go back to Alabama -- and kiss you know what.”
To be fair, the participants MPB spoke to were actually Mississippians, although many did not have direct ties to the university. But misgivings among some alumni, students and others have been audible since the university released the Chancellor’s Action Plan on Race and Diversity on Aug. 1st that detailed among other things the renaming of two streets: one -- Confederate Drive – for its problematic historical name and the other to add a street named after Chucky Mullins, a black football player who was paralyzed whilst playing for Ole Miss.
The 'Jones Agenda’ that the demonstrators are railing against is the apparent attempt "to eradicate all things Confederate and Southern from this university, which was built by Confederates, in a Confederate state, with our blood and treasure," Sidle says. "This is a Confederate school. There is nothing wrong with being a Confederate.”
Another passage in the report has ruffled feathers. Writing too vaguely “both names will be used in appropriate contexts going forward, with particular emphasis going to "Ole Miss" in athletics and as a representation of the university's spirit” opened the door to misunderstandings. Now, many are rallying to protect the nickname, fearing its use will be curtailed, lighting up Twitter, Facebook, and chat sites.
“When they are talking about taking Ole Miss out of the University of Mississippi -- leaving it in for sports teams but taking it out for the university doesn’t make any sense to me. If you’re gonna take it out – take it out. If you’re gonna leave it in – leave it in,” says UM student Debbie Nelson.
But taking the name away was not the intention says Danny Blanton, the University’s director of media and public relations. Essentially, he says, nothing changes in the name.
”There is no case in any shape, form or fashion that we will do away with the term Ole Miss.”
However, it may take more to assure stakeholders that the beloved nickname will not disappear from campus-life as have other traditions like Colonel Reb, Dixie, and the Confederate flags flying in the stadium. As always, any change on campus is hotly contested.
Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Oxford.
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