Six markers contextualizing the University of Mississippi’s history were unveiled on campus Friday.
Plaques for Barnard Observatory, Lamar Hall, Longstreet Hall and George Hall were introduced as was a marker recognizing the university’s enslaved laborers in the construction of Barnard Observatory, the Old Chapel (now Croft), the Lyceum and Hilgard Cut. Another plaque to be placed at the stained-glass Tiffany windows in Ventress Hall recognizes the University Greys, a Civil War company of primarily university students that suffered 100 percent casualties – killed, wounded or captured.
The presentation followed months of study by the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context.
“These plaques are daily reminders of our obligation to learn from the past and commit to an inclusive future,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said Friday during a ceremony at the Gertrude Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
“It can be challenging to tell the story of change and transformation while we are going through it, but we are here today to recognize that this work indeed is a significant moment of change and transformation in the life of our university,” Vitter said.
The chancellor established the committee on history and context in summer 2016 to address a recommendation in the university’s 2014 Action Plan that urged the university to “offer more history, putting the past into context” and to do so “without attempts to erase history, even some difficult history.”
The committee recommended which physical sites on the Oxford campus – beyond those already completed – that should be contextualized to explain the environment in which they were created or named. The committee was also charged with designing the content and format to contextualize the recommended sites.
The committee’s full recommendations, its final report, and renderings and map locations of the plaques can be found at http://context.olemiss.edu/.
Besides the six sites contextualized Friday, the university will seek to rename Vardaman Hall. The chancellor’s committee determined that James K. Vardaman, a former Mississippi governor and U.S. senator who was a virulent white supremacist, was an exceptional case for his time and recommended unanimously to rename the building.
The committee also recommended adding individual gravestones to recognize the sacrifice of each person known to be buried at the University Cemetery, as well as creating a marker to recognize the men from Lafayette County who served in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.
Additionally, signage at the Paul B. Johnson Commons will be altered to add “Sr.” to clarify that it is named after Paul B. Johnson Sr.
“As an educational institution, we have a responsibility to teach and foster learning, especially from parts of our history that are painful,” Vitter said. “All these outcomes emanating from the CACHC process remind us that to move forward as a community, we must neither hide from nor hide the problems of our past.”