The University of Mississippi has acknowledged its historic connections to slavery and racial discrimination, yet it holds on to monuments to the Confederacy that continue to inspire white supremacy.
On Saturday, eight Ole Miss basketball players kneeled during the playing of the national anthem to protest a pro-Confederate rally that took place on campus.
WLOX-TV identified Confederate 901 and The Hiwaymen as the two pro-Confederacy groups that marched on Saturday from a Confederate monument in downtown Oxford, Mississippi to The Circle on Ole Miss’ campus, where another monument is located. The campus monument has stood on the school’s grounds from more than a century.
Ole Miss basketball coach Kermit Davis defended his players’ protest.
“This was all about the hate groups that came to our community and tried to spread racism and bigotry … in our community. It has created a lot of tension for our campus. I think our players made an emotional decision to show these people they aren’t welcome on our campus, and we respect our players’ freedom and ability to choose that,” Davis said after the game.
Racial turmoil at Ole Miss boiled over more than five decades ago when the university’s first Black student, James Meredith, registered for classes in 1962 at a pre-Civil War building on campus that slaves constructed in 1848.
The turmoil has continued in recent years. For example, in 2012, Black and white students clashed on election night when President Barack Obama won his re-election bid. In 2014, two students tied a noose and a flag, that carried the Confederate symbol, on the campus’ statue of Meredith in 2014. They were later arrested, charged and found guilty of hate crimes.
It was a long struggle, but in 2015 Ole Miss finally removed the state flag from campus. Long a symbol of the racist Confederacy, which is deeply entrenched in the history of Mississippi, the flag was lowered by campus police during an unannounced ceremony.
But many students say there’s still much more that should be done—especially regarding the campus’ Confederate monuments that hate groups are defending. On Saturday, students who gathered to oppose the pro-Confederacy groups chanted “take it down!” according to WLOX-TV.
Taia McAfee said the school has failed to take students seriously and that a Confederate statue on campus makes her feel uneasy.
“Like it hurts personally. Just because they are part of administrations that has always told us we’re here for you as a Black student, we’re here to make sure you’re taken care of, and that you’re comfortable. But I’m not and being disregarded like that hurts, and I’m also embarrassed,” McAfee said.