September 13, 2017 – The MSNAACP has joined the ongoing nationwide battle to remove lingering tributes to our nation’s history as a segregationist society.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History lists more than 100 monuments, statues, or graveyards inside the state of Mississippi honoring people whose primary goal was to keep African-American men, women, and children as property. Most monuments have sat, ignored by residents for nearly a century. A significant percentage of the monuments, from the old confederate monument of Aberdeen to a similarly aged monument in downtown Yazoo, were constructed between 1900 and 1915, and were championed by United Daughters of the Confederacy and other confederate sympathizers.
These monuments’ turn-of-the-century creation coincides with the retirement age of many of the Civil War’s confederate veterans. At first glance, this timing seems to match with the recent uptick in WWII monuments, erected to honor the sacrifice of U.S. veterans as they similarly faded into retirement. However, where WWII monuments venerate freedom fighters, Confederate monuments lift-up men who fought not for freedom, but for the continuation of slavery.
The honoring of slavery supporters, though heinously inappropriate in and of itself, is unlikely to have been the major motivation that created so many Confederate monuments and memorials. Instead, the driving force behind their establishment is more closely tied to a particularly violent era beginning at the turn of the century that is marked by the rise of Jim Crow laws and murderous lynch mobs that terrorized whole communities of newly freed African Americans.
Where fear failed to deter African Americans from exercising their Constitutionally recognized rights, including the right to vote, state legislatures picked up the charge. Across the South, local election officials stuffed ballot boxes, and state legislators passed voter restriction laws eerily similar to modern-day voter ID laws promoted by Republican state legislatures.
Many of these laws, while not denying the vote to African Americans directly, still effectively suppressed their vote by requiring poll taxes and property ownership requirements, as well as literacy tests so impossibly difficult, very few white voters would have passed had they been required to take them. White legislators also passed felony disenfranchisement laws that removed voting rights from felons convicted of certain poverty-related money crimes, like theft. Mississippi is one of many former confederate states that still has its old felon disenfranchisement law still on the books, as well as a brand new ID requirement that many critics describe as onerous to African Americans.
University of Southern Mississippi History Professor Susannah Ural said the reasons behind the erection of Mississippi statues could be for a combination of reasons, but would not rule out the hate and enmity that ruled the turn-of-the-century South.
“It really depends on the monument,” Ural said. “There is an argument that the monuments erected in the late 19th and early 20th century were done so by southern whites in reaction to certain organizations and African-American groups, like the NAACP. There’s also the possibility that some of that was motivated by the 50th anniversary of the Civil War. You really have to look at it case by case to understand those motivations-and it could have been both.”
Cities across the nation, including New Orleans and Baltimore, are rethinking the motivation behind their own statues and promptly taking them down, which critics compare to burning history books. One of those critics, President Donald Trump, addressed the nation with a controversial press conference after a recent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville turned deadly. During the August 12 rally, Neo-Nazi terrorist James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove over and killed Charlottesville resident and counter-protester Heather Heyer, while anti-racist crowds clashed with white nationalists protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
In opposition to those who believe in removing statutes aggrandizing Confederate slavers, Trump argued that by doing so, those people are trying to alter U.S. history.
“You’re changing history,” Trump argued. “You’re changing culture.”
Mississippi-Branch NAACP interim President Charles Hampton clapped back, however, arguing that no one is trying to change history because no one is trying to change history books.
“A statue is not history. A statue is glorification, and anything that represents the confederacy represents hate and racism and doesn’t represent all the people of Mississippi,” Hampton said. “If they want history, they can find all they want in a book. But if they want to go stare at a Confederate general they should be able to go see him in a museum.”