University of Mississippi alumnus and long-time donor Jim Barksdale reached out to the Mississippi Free Press Friday afternoon to clarify his involvement in fundraising efforts for the Confederate monument relocation and controversial cemetery-enhancement vision some critics have called a “shrine” to the Confederacy.
As the Mississippi Free Press reported July 9, Barksdale signed a fundraising appeal that went out on June 18, 2020, within hours of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning approving a UM proposal to both relocate the campus’ rebel-soldier statue and remodel the Confederate cemetery. The plan includes brick pathways, sophisticated lighting and the addition of controversial headstones to unmarked graves, although it is impossible to identify what soldiers lie where in the old graveyard that, to date, has required minimum upkeep.
Barksdale said he halted his fundraising efforts as soon as he learned the details of the cemetery plans the day after his letter went out calling for funds for both the relocation and enhancements. “I’ve talked to the chancellor about this subject, and I’ve told him that I do not want to raise money or give money to putting up these phony headstones. Seems to me, that’s desecration of the gravesite. They don’t know who those people are,” he said in a Friday-afternoon phone interview.
He also added new information in the interview that the Mississippi Free Press could not confirm before publication. “In some cases the bones are only 6 inches below ground; they’re going to tear the whole thing up,” Barksdale said of the plan to add headstones to the Confederate graves. “Maybe the committee would put more dirt down there, but I’m not going to raise money for any of that. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
A source familiar with the debate around renovating the cemetery, including the addition of headstones, said that it is the first they have heard of the grave-depth problem, which did not appear in documents about the cemetery plans the MFP has received to date.
Barksdale drew on his own experience with Confederate cemeteries to explain his opposition. “As soon as I saw it, I said you can’t do this,” he told the Mississippi Free Press. “I’ve got a graveyard on my ranch, and it’s a Civil War graveyard. There are soldiers there with CSA headstones that I had to put back up and keep in place where they are and keep the place tended to and mowed and all that, which I do. I don’t think that’s right; so, no, I would not give money to nor raise money for tombstones being placed there willy nilly.”
‘Well, This Seems Like a Lot of Money’
A Mississippi Free Press investigation into the Confederate monument relocation/cemetery enhancement plans, published July 9, revealed that early the afternoon of June 18, UM Vice Chancellor for Development Charlotte Parks sent out an email and letter from UM Campaign Planning Committee Chairman Barksdale to fellow “Ole Miss alumni leaders, donors and friends” asking them to contribute to the project. “We already have a $100,000 commitment, and I am asking you to consider a lead gift,” Barksdale explained. “The total cost of relocating the statue, as well as providing necessary improvements and repairs to the existing cemetery, will be between $900,000 and $1.2 million.”
Barksdale said Friday that Chancellor Glenn Boyce asked Parks to send out a fundraising appeal right after IHL voted to approve relocation efforts earlier the day of June 18. Parks, he said, then reached out to him about authoring the email appeal.
“The chancellor, as I understand it, asked Charlotte Parks right after the meeting with all that—they’d gotten the [IHL] vote—for her to start on raising the money it would take to move it and put it in a new place at the cemetery,” Barksdale said in the phone interview. “I had, at that time, no idea about this new cemetery plan. I’d never seen the drawings of it or heard anything about it other than they were going to move (the statue) down to the old Confederate cemetery.”
When he talked to Parks on June 18, Barksdale said, he challenged the amount UM was looking to raise: $900,000 to $1.2 million. The plan IHL approved on June 18 included a budget breakdown—construction costs, $838,532; architectural and engineering fees, $100,000; miscellaneous project costs, $45,820; furniture and equipment costs, $18,000, contingency, $147,648; for a total project budget of $1,150,000. The plan stated that private sources would provide the $1,15 million for the statue relocation, as well as an enhancement of the adjacent Confederate cemetery to help ensure it would “serve as a respected site for the Confederate Monument on the UM campus.”
The City of New Orleans, by comparison, had estimated that it would cost $170,000 total to remove four Confederate statues from public property in 2017, CNN reported. The costs for moving all four ended up ballooning to $2.1 million, due largely to litigation and unforeseen costs after the original contractor pulled out of the project after protesters lit his car on fire.
The IHL proposal also included plans for significant, and apparently expensive and ultimately controversial, enhancements to the Confederate cemetery.
“As one can see in the included renderings, the Confederate Monument will be accessible by a newly laid brick path surrounded by trees and enhanced with lighting,” the proposal to IHL explained. “Security cameras will be added in and around the University Cemetery to allow for continuous monitoring by the University Police Department. Within the walls of the cemetery, new headstones will be added to offer remembrance for the souls buried on the grounds along with a stone path to the existing marker in the cemetery.”
Barksdale told the Mississippi Free Press Friday that he challenged Parks on the amount of money he would be helping raise when he called her on July 18. “I said, well this seems like a lot of money, because she told me it was I think $800,000 to a million dollars or something,” Barksdale said. “She said, well, they were doing some other work, but that’s what the bids had come in at that they’d gotten at the school.”
The businessman said he then told Parks, “Alright, but, you know, if you gave me $75,000 and a truck, I could get it moved.” He told the Mississippi Free Press that was a joke, though.
Still, the high-profile alumnus agreed that the fundraising appeal would go out under his name, saying, “Yeah, I’ll sign it.”
The Mississippi Free Press left multiple phone and email messages for Parks since Barksdale’s interview, but she did not respond before publication.
‘We Need to Stand Down on This’
Barksdale told the Mississippi Free Press that he jumped the gun on agreeing to sign the fundraising appeal.
“I was so excited that we’d finally gotten an agreement to remove the statue from the front of the circle there at Ole Miss,” he said. “I’d always regretted that it was there, and I don’t want to go into all that, but it was a happy day that we’d finally got this vote from the IHL. We’d been waiting on it for months. So I said, yes, I will sign it. So I did.”
During the phone interview, Barksdale said he saw the artist’s rendering of relocation grounds for the first time Friday, June 19. The two renderings are included at the very end of the 156-page report and proposal to IHL.
Upon seeing the renderings, “I immediately called Charlotte,” Barksdale said, “and I said ‘Charlotte, has my letter gone out?’ She said yeah, she’d sent it out. I said, well, please send them another—we need to stand down on this. I don’t like this embellishment of the cemetery. Just for the statue. All these markers and everything—it was way overdone, I thought.”
When the letters went out, Barksdale added, he and Parks were not aware of the additions to the cemetery that have stirred much controversy among the UM community. He said he does not believe Parks had seen the rendering of enhancement plans at that time. “In fact, she told me later she hadn’t seen the plans when she prepared the letter and sent it out,” he said.
Historian: No Donations Whatsoever for Cemetery Enhancements
In the interview, Barksdale was also emphatic that he had never seen the “Ole Miss Monument Relocation Or Cemetery Enhancement Pledge Form,” a Word document that indicates that Parks had created it the morning of June 17, 2020, the day before the IHL vote and Barksdale’s fundraising appeal going out.
“I have no idea who authored the form. I know that I’ve never seen it,” he said in the Friday phone interview.
The pledge form, which was attached to the fundraising email appeal Barksdale signed, gave potential donors two distinct payment options that allowed them to specify exactly what they’d like their money to fund. The first option listed on the form reads, “Gift Amount for Monument Relocation,” and the second option available to potential donors was “Gift Amount for Cemetery Enhancement.”
Barksdale said he recalled no conversation about any cemetery enhancements before the appeal went out. “And I think, there was no discussion about separate pledges for taking the statue down and whatever you said was on the card—taking it down or moving it or restoring it or whatever. I guess (it was to) give money different ways. It was a lot of money, and we thought we’d get it done quickly.”
When asked if he had seen the pledge form, which asked for donations for either statue relocation or cemetery enhancements, Barksdale posed a question to this reporter, asking “Well, why is that a big deal? I still hadn’t—I don’t understand. You said it was divided into two parts. Relocation and cemetery. Is that important?”
Dr. Anne Twitty, author of “Before Dred Scott: Slavery and Legal Culture in the American Confluence, 1787-1857,” and associate professor of history at the University of Mississippi, addressed Barksdale’s question to the Mississippi Free Press today.
“The donation form suggests that this is an issue on which there are two completely reasonable positions,” Twitty said.
“As if the answer to the question is of no more significance than whether one prefers chocolate or vanilla ice cream,” continued Twitty, who is a critic of the planned cemetery enhancements. “It pretends that the question is not, at base, about the kinds of values we embrace. And in doing so, it signals absolutely no understanding of what demands to remove Confederate symbols are all about. It further implies that the University of Mississippi has in no way determined for itself how to position itself vis-á-vis Confederate symbols and Lost Cause ideology.”
UM should call for no donations whatsoever for work to the cemetery, Twitty warned: “No public university should be soliciting donations for the ‘enhancement’ of an almost entirely Confederate cemetery, regardless of whether some of its donors want it.”
After emphasizing that he had not seen the appeal form to date, Barksdale offered a guess on why the form listed these two options. “There are some people, I’m sure, that would care more about just getting rid of or relocating the monument and others who don’t want to get attached to relocating the monument but are fine with upgrading or you know refurbing the cemetery,” he said in the Friday interview. “And so I guess Charlotte and them are trying to appeal to both. I don’t know.”
Despite his assertions that he had not seen the form, Barksdale called the Mississippi Free Press back following his interview to clarify that he had, in fact, viewed the pledge form before Charlotte Parks hit send on June 18. He first said on the follow-up call that he “may have seen it,” while referencing his email log, and then eventually clarifying, “I must have.”
Construction Underway with ‘Borrowed’ Funds
In the Friday phone interview, Barksdale confirmed what this reporter had observed in recent days—construction is already under way at UM’s Confederate cemetery, despite Barksdale halting his fundraising efforts.
When the Mississippi Free Press reported that funding had been paused for the relocation efforts, small construction crews were and still are buzzing around campus. What looks to be a completed marble base is visible through a few cracks in the maze of privacy fencing put up to shield construction work from the public eye.
Barksdale confirmed that the initial pledge of $100,000, which was in place when he signed the June 18 donor appeal, had been withdrawn. He did not identify that donor.
“They’re paying for it with borrowed funds,” Barksdale said of UM. “Or with university funds, I mean the university’s got money. I think they would pay for it with borrowed money with hopes that they can raise the money to reimburse the treasury.”
“They borrow the money for the construction; then they come back and raise the money so they can pay the loan back,” he added. The university has been emphatic that private funds must cover the renovation and relocation costs.
“Now (UM) can raise money in other ways than me signing a letter, obviously. I’m just one committee head,” Barksdale added.
He also elaborated on what he believed would be appropriate for the cemetery renovations that donors might fund. “I think they can move the statue down there, make a nice little round concrete base, which is what they’re planning to do, with a concrete walkway, not bricks, and then lead into the cemetery,” Barksdale described Friday. “That seems appropriate, but I’m not for uplighting or those kinds of enhancements.”
“It’ll be a round area that goes around the statue; they’ll have the marker there,” he continued. “I’m also in favor of adding any new names they’ve got. I understand they have several names they now know of people who are buried down there that they didn’t have before to put up on that plaque that’s been there for years. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, and I told the chancellor that.”
Barksdale said he also does not mind an idea that emerged back in 2017, seemingly as a balancing measure to attorney Don Barrett’s plan to put headstones in the Confederate cemetery.
“I think it’s fine to have another monument put down there to recognize the African American soldiers from Lafayette County who went off to fight with the Union during the war,” Barksdale told the Mississippi Free Press. “I think that’s a good idea. I think that’s appropriate if they want to do that, students and the committee want to do it. I think those are appropriate. I don’t want them to spend a whole lot more money.”
Barksdale’s overall description is far more than historians and other critics of the “enhancement” plan tell the Mississippi Free Press is acceptable. They would likely prefer his joke about $75,000 and a truck—basically loading the statue up and putting it on a base at the cemetery. Then do nothing more to renovate the cemetery or glorify the Confederacy.
In his closing remarks during his interview with the Mississippi Free Press, Barksdale restated his position.
“Some people wanted it moved. Some people didn’t. I wanted it moved,” the long-time UM donor said of the Confederate statue. “The IHL dilly-dallied too long I thought on a simple matter—a straightforward matter, rather, not simple. But we finally got their vote. We appreciate that.”
But, he added, “I’m excited to get this statue moved, but I’m not excited to build a monument to that statue down at the cemetery. And the $100,000 was withdrawn. There is no money raised for this project, and I’m not going to get involved with it until or unless I feel like they’ve come up with a plan for the cemetery and the statue area that is acceptable to me.
“Others can go raise money if they want, but I’m not. And I told the chancellor that.”
Donna Ladd contributed to this report. Email story tips to Christian Middleton at [email protected].
Read the MFP’s investigations of the plan to relocate the Confederate statue and enhance the UM cemetery and coverage across the state as efforts to move Confederate statues and memorials grow. See an infographic of Confederate memorials in Mississippi and report missing ones to [email protected].