Ole Miss can contextualize Confederate monuments, court finds

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Confederate statue at Ole Miss

An effort of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to block a University of Mississippi diversity plan, which includes the contextualizing of Confederate monuments, streets and campus buildings, has been rejected by the Court of Appeals.

In a unanimous decision announced Tuesday, the 10-member court upheld a decision of Lafayette County Circuit Judge John Kelly Luther in favor of Ole Miss.

The Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans argued the case should have been decided in chancery court because the group was seeking to prevent something from occurring, and thus, chancery court had jurisdiction.

The group also contended that under Mississippi law, war monuments located on public property, including from the Civil War, cannot be removed or changed.

The Court of Appeals rejected all of the arguments of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Its opinion said that circuit court had jurisdiction in the case and that the Sons of Confederate Veterans did not have standing to bring the case.

Judge Tyree Irving, writing for the Court of Appeals, said “this matter affects the public interest and may be brought, if at all, only by the attorney general or a district attorney. We find that SCV’s members have no private right that entitles them to require that (the University of Mississippi) refrain from implementing its diversity plan.”

In 2017, the University of Mississippi, as part of a diversity initiative, announced plans to place plaques at monuments and other campus spots dealing with the Civil War and other instances of racial injustice explaining them in historical context.

At the time, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said, “Contextualization is an important extension of a university’s responsibility to educate and provides an opportunity to learn from history. As an educational institution, it is imperative we foster a learning environment and fulfill our mission by pursuing knowledge and understanding.”

One building Vardaman Hall, named after James K. Vardaman, an outspoken segregationist who supported lynching of African Americans to maintain white supremacy. The building named in honor of Vardaman, who served as governor and U.S. senator for Mississippi in the early 1900s, will be renamed under the effort. University officials have not announced the new name for the building.

Other parts of the plan include putting up a plaque, for instance, detailing the Civil War and slavery at the site of a monument for a confederate soldier.

The decision of the Court of Appeals could be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.