Ahead of a March 3 deadline to pass general bills through committee at the state Capitol, several alumni of the University of Mississippi and Confederate heritage groups are asking legislative leadership to support bills that would keep the university from moving its Confederate monument.
University leaders, including Chancellor Glenn Boyce, Athletics Director Keith Carter and the chief fundraising officials on campus, support a student-formed plan to move the university’s 30-foot monument from the center of campus to an on-campus graveyard where Confederate soldiers are buried.
After the 12-member board of trustees at the Institutions of Higher Learning tabled a January vote that could have approved or killed plans to relocate the monument, several lawmakers filed bills this session that would prohibit public entities from moving war memorial monuments.
Sources close to several college board members told Mississippi Today last month that board members who oppose the relocation hope the Legislature addresses the issue during the 2020 session.
But legislative leaders told Mississippi Today on Monday morning that the monument bills would likely not be taken up before tomorrow’s deadline, a move that would effectively kill them.
House Rules Chair Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, said two monument bills before his committee had not been a priority thus far, but that he would look at them before Tuesday night’s deadline.
“Right now, they are not a priority,” he said, adding, “I doubt seriously I will be taking them up.”
But Turner added that he would not make a decision before further studying the bills.
“Wait and see what happens tomorrow,” he said.
Rep. Tom Weathersby, R-Florence and the chairman of the House Public Property Committee, told Mississippi Today on Monday morning that he won’t take up the monument bills in his committee.
“They don’t have a good chance of coming up, unless the Senate sends us something,” Weathersby said. “They’re likely dead.”
Three similar Senate bills have been filed, but all of them were double-referred, a legislative tactic often designed to kill legislation. If those bills were to remain alive, they’d have to pass through two committees before Tuesday’s deadline. One of those bills must pass through the Senate Public Property Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Angela Turner-Ford, D-West Point, the current chair of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.
Johnny Morgan, a former state senator and the brother of IHL board member Chip Morgan, sent an email to dozens of friends and associates on Friday asking them to call legislative leaders and ask that they push the monument bills through committee.
“I feel comfortable (the bills) will pass and further preserve our Southern heritage,” Morgan wrote in the email that shares language pushed on social media by several pro-Confederate groups.
In a phone interview with Mississippi Today on Monday morning, Morgan criticized “certain groups that decided they want to change history.” When asked if he had discussed the monument relocation with his brother, he replied: “Not really.”
“It came up (in the January IHL meeting) and I said, ‘Wait a minute, this is a problem,'” Morgan told Mississippi Today in a phone interview. “There’s nothing you can do about history. Some people recognize it, and some people don’t. I think the monuments to World War II, World War I, the war between the states, and the Gulf War – all these people put their lives on the line for these causes. To erase all that is absolutely ridiculous.”
Several Confederate heritage groups — including the Our State Flag Foundation and Make Ole Miss Great Again Inc. — have posted language identical to Morgan’s email on social media and asked supporters to call legislative leaders.
In February and March 2019, the university’s student senate, faculty senate, graduate student council, staff council and top administrative officials passed a measure that called for the monument’s relocation to an on-campus graveyard where Confederate soldiers are buried. The cemetery is located in a corner of campus not visible from main thoroughfares.
Opponents of the relocation measure have argued broader opinion on campus and among alumni was not taken into consideration in the decision to move the statue, though chief officials at the UM Foundation, the Alumni Association and the UM Athletics Foundation support the relocation.
The university’s leaders submitted its relocation proposal to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the board of trustees of that state agency unanimously approved the university’s relocation plan in December.
But the relocation hit a snag in early January when the board of trustees at the Institutions for Higher Learning, which gets the final say on the proposal, removed the proposal from its agenda.
IHL board member Tommy Duff, who recently gave the university $26 million for its new STEM building, removed the item from the agenda citing a desire to “receive a full report” from the university on efforts to contextualize its many symbols that honor the Confederacy or problematic leaders of Mississippi’s past.
After the IHL’s decision to remove the item from its agenda, Boyce, the UM chancellor, said he would work to appease the board’s request for additional information before re-submitting the proposal for the IHL board’s consideration.
Before the IHL board can consider the proposal again, Boyce must submit the proposal to the board for consideration. While deliberations of the IHL board often occur in private, Boyce said in a statement earlier this month the university would “keep (the public) informed and provide further updates as this process continues.”
Bobby Harrison contributed reporting.