One Grove To The Next? Why UM’s Confederate Controversy May Not Be Over

University of Mississippi 2017 Master Plan
The University of Mississippi's 2017 Master Plan, available on its Facilities website, calls for an expansion and new development close to the Confederate cemetery and new home of the rebel-soldier statue. Courtesy UM Master Plan

The Confederate statue on the University of Mississippi campus now has a new home after 114 years in a prime spot on campus. Beginning early the morning of July 14, workers dismantled the 30-foot-high memorial, placed the parts on a long flatbed truck and soon transported the marble grayback at the speed of a funeral procession from the Lyceum to the front of the old Confederate cemetery that has long hidden behind the Tad Smith Coliseum. 

Still, the Confederate soldier could get the last laugh in his new home. He might at some point in the intermediate or distant future be adjacent to a new mixed-use development called the Tad Smith Mall, on the site of the current Tad Pad, with the statue’s walkway feeding into what is slated to be called the “New Grove.”

2017 UM Master Plan Cover
The 2017 Master Plan indicates possible future development, including the “New Grove,” near the Confederate cemetery. Click to view PDF.

The Mississippi Free Press found  the university’s 2017 master plan on the Department of Facilities Planning website this week. Anyone can go to the front page of facilitiesplanning.olemiss.edu, click on “Master Plan” at the top of the page and download the PDF of a 101-page architectural plan that details would-be additions to the UM campus intended to grapple with a now-tabled projection of enrollment growth.

The UM Master Plan detailed these concerns, stating, “Enrollment projections provided by the Growth Management Task Force, along with a straight line trend analysis, suggest a potential future student population of approximately 35,000 FTE students in 2030.” 

The idea is that an increase in enrollment means the university would need to physically grow—and a good place for that growth and development is over around the aging Tad Pad, especially if enrollment gets up close to 30,000, which the 2017 plan had projected for five years from now in 2025.

The Master Plan explains the expansion logic this way: “As of 2015, the University of Mississippi maintained roughly 6.2 million gross square feet of space. The Master Plan responds to future space needs as projected by the University to support 25,000 – 30,000 students. The collective space deficit associated with a future enrollment of 30,000 students (2025) across all space categories approaches 1,750,000 gsf assuming a 62% net to gross ratio. The majority of this estimated space deficit is associated with housing the increase in student population (975,000 gsf or 58% percent of the total deficit), followed by study spaces (257,000 gsf or 14 percent of the total deficit) and office spaces (262,000 gsf, or 15 percent of the total deficit).”

The university is running behind that growth schedule, however. Graphs in the 2017 Master Plan projected 25,000 students by the end of 2019. The most recent enrollment number listed on the University of Mississippi’s website lists a number well below that project—19,421. So this master plan could be farther in the future than anticipated, if it stays in place.

In an interview Wednesday, 2020 UM graduate and Rhodes Scholar Arielle Hudson of Tunica talked about reasons enrollment numbers did not increase as projected, calling it “a lack of opportunities.”

“Ole Miss has scholarships available, but I think there are way more scholarships available for students who are athletes,” Hudson, who is also a Mississippi Free Press advisory-board member, said. “Specifically, when you think about African American students, there are way more scholarships for students who are African American athletes than there are for students who are just African American students.”

Black students struggle to come to grips with the glaring history of racism at UM, Hudson said. “You also have the stereotypical narrative about what Ole Miss is. It’s just students being afraid to come to the university and their families trying to persuade them not to,” she said.

Hudson, who helped with student recruitment efforts at UM as well as helped lead the fight to move the Confederate statue to the cemetery, said that she personally engaged with students and families who feared the implications of attending a school entrenched in a history of racial conflict. 

Arielle Hudson at the UM Confederate Statue
Arielle Hudson, a 2020 graduate of the University of Mississippi and the college’s first black woman Rhodes Scholar, says following the 2017 Master Plan to build a new grove around the Confederate statue’s new home near the cemetery “could definitely be a problem.” Photo by Seyma Bayram

She and other students who worked to move the statue were also adamantly opposed to the plan to add brick pathways, sophisticated lighting and headstones to the Confederate cemetery. 

As for the possibility of a bustling new grove being built around the Confederate statue, thrusting a symbol of white supremacy back into a prominent position, Hudson was succinct in her response. 

“That could definitely be a problem. I wouldn’t like to see that go through,” Hudson said.

The New Grove Preserves the Cemetery

A plan to make the area of campus around the Tad Pad and the cemetery into UM’s new shiny place could leave those who fought to relocate the state there facing a Pyrrhic victory if the Master Plan is kept in place and eventually comes to fruition. Should the University of Mississippi continue with the plans detailed in the “2017 Master Plan Update,” the Confederate monument, with its newly refurbished home, would likely become a celebrated focal point on the campus, thus sidestepping years of efforts to have Confederate iconography removed. 

The plan describes the vision for The New Grove, which would be directly north of the Confederate cemetery entrance, and connected to the New Campus center by pedestrian walkways and university transit lines.

“This open space is imagined as a Grove-like landscape featuring large canopy trees and shaded lawn areas. It links the Tad Smith Mall to the Stadium District; a landscape that serves as a gathering space for day-to-day activities and a potential location for game day events,” the Master Plan states. “The New Grove also includes multipurpose fields adjacent to the Turner Center to accommodate informal recreation activities. The New Grove preserves the cemetery located on the higher ground and serves as an extension of the forested areas located north of Hill Drive.” 

The document describes the Master Plan’s overall vision: “The 2017 Master Plan Update is rooted in the history and traditions of the campus, in the evolving academic and research mission of the University, and the goals and aspirations of the campus community. It draws from the past, addresses the needs of the present, and promotes a philosophy of stewardship and sustainability for the future.”

UM Confederate Soldier at Cemetery
Dr. Anne Twitty, a UM historian, said the 2017 Master Plan proves why the Confederate statue should not be anywhere on campus. Photo by Christian Middleton

Dr. Anne Twitty, associate professor of history at UM, spoke with the Mississippi Free Press about the problems the university is creating for itself by keeping the statue anywhere on campus.

“I think that if they moved forward with plans for a new grove, the location of the Confederate monument would become a problem all over again,” Twitty said Thursday.

“What we’re saying here in many different ways is this is a problematic object to have on campus, and anywhere you put it is going to be some kind of problem. And I think that should tell you something about the object itself, right?”

The fact that, some day, the area around the statue’s new home could be more central to campus is a problem for Twitty. “Relocating the monument to the Confederate cemetery is kind of just kicking the can down the road,” she said. “It’s a whole lot of money to spend to kick the can, too.” 

Twitty’s comments echo the concerns and demands of many other voices within this academic community. The common thread among those rebuking the university and the controversial plans Chancellor Glenn Boyce proposed to the IHL seems to be a yearning for transparency and inclusion that, they say, the administration at the University of Mississippi has never been able to provide. 

Now, a small army of opponents has begun knocking on the doors that have traditionally cloaked the daily turnings of powerful administrators at a public university. This spirited coalition of students, professors and others in the UM community have come to parley—bringing with them the conditions of surrender for the crumbling bulwark of the Lost Cause. 

The reporting of this story illustrates the lack of transparency these critics talk about. The Mississippi Free Press made several attempts to talk to Ian Banner, the director of facilities planning and university architect at UM whose department is promoting the 2017 Master Plan on its website. After locating Banner at the Confederate cemetery the same day the statue was relocated, this reporter inquired as to whether or not the university still plans to pursue the 2017 Master Plan. Clutching a handsaw and some other tools, Banner darted quickly back to his post overseeing the work of men behind the cover of privacy fencing. He, like many others affiliated with the university, referred this reporter to university communications. 

UM architect Ian Banner
UM architect Ian Banner oversees the monument relocation efforts. He declined to talk about the 2017 Master Plan. Photo: UM

This reporter made a final attempt to reach Banner at the cemetery site before press time Thursday to confirm whether or not the 2017 Master Plan Update will proceed as planned. After gaining entry from a security guard and walking beyond the privacy fencing, the entire construction site opened up. The Confederate statue, alight with late morning sun, towered over the otherwise barren plot of land. 

Standing beneath the newly relocated monument, Banner was speaking with two unidentified men. Approached again, he politely instructed this reporter to leave the site immediately and declined to comment. 

As of press time today, no University of Mississippi representatives have made themselves available for an interview about the status of the Master Plan despite numerous requests. However, an official email arrived Thursday afternoon about the plan.

University of Mississippi spokesman Rod Guajardo wrote in the email: ”A master plan is one vision for how the university can manage future growth. At the same time, master plans for any organization are inherently fluid because circumstances and needs change continuously over time. We must yield sustained growth for a number of years to need more academic and residential space on campus, or to be able to support any of the major projects outlined in the 2017 Master Plan except for the STEM Building.” 

“There are no construction activities planned for the Tad Smith Coliseum in the near term or the long term because it continues to support important functions for our university,” he added.

Meantime, Back at the Cemetery

This long-awaited relocation has been steeped in controversy. On July 9, a Mississippi Free Press investigation detailed the wide opposition to the plans that many opponents say glorifies the Confederacy and is nothing more than a “shrine.” Indeed, more than 150 faculty members from departments across the university have published open letters detailing their opposition to the cemetery renovation, with a running list of entities who have spoken out against the plans.

UM Confederate Cemetery Rendering
The University of Mississippi finally got the green light on June 18, 2020, to move its rebel-soldier monument from the middle of campus to its near-barren Confederate Cemetery. Then, supporters of the move saw this rendering of UM’s $1.15-million “cemetery enhancement” strategy, and controversy erupted. The university later dropped the headstones plan. Rendering: University of Mississippi



Notably, the University of Mississippi Black Caucus demanded Wednesday that the Working Group for the Cemetery Headstone Project, led by lawyer and UM alumnus Don Barrett, be disbanded, referencing Mississippi Free Press reporting on the cemetery group and Barrett’s role. The caucus rebuked the working group’s plans, including headstones and brick pathways, that Boyce included as part of the relocation-plus-cemetery-upgrade proposal the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning approved June 18 with renderings of what one critic called a “CSA statuary.”

The group of student leaders, presidents who represent nine Black student organizations, have also demanded a meeting with Chancellor Glenn Boyce on Monday, July 20. 

Businessman and University of Mississippi alumnus and donor James L. Barksdale told the Mississippi Free Press that he refuses to fundraise for the project until “they’ve come up with a plan for the cemetery and the statue area that is acceptable to me.” Photo: UM Tech Summit 2019/YouTube

Long-time donor and UM alumnus Jim Barksdale clarified his involvement in the fundraising efforts as well his position on the controversial plans the University of Mississippi emailed out by early afternoon on June 18 after the IHL vote. Barksdale told the Mississippi Free Press last Friday that 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,” Barksdale said in a phone interview.

Barksdale also mentioned that some of the bones buried in the cemetery could be within 6 inches of the surface, moving that headstone placement could damage them.

The Late-Hour Discovery of Shallow Graves

Four days after Barksdale mentioned the shallow-grave issue, Chancellor Boyce released a statement Tuesday thanking and commending the UM community for their input on the Confederate monument relocation efforts. He added that in light of radar surveys performed at the cemetery sometime in June, excavation within the cemetery walls would not be allowed. 

“Last month, we requested a ground penetrating radar survey inside the cemetery walls to determine the depth of cover material over the buried remains,” the chancellor explained in the statement. 

Glenn Boyce
University of Chancellor Glenn Boyce asked has now dropped the headstones plan, saying a recent survey indicated graves in the Confederate cemetery are too shallow, and headstones could disturb the remains. Photo: UM

“The results of this survey were received in two parts on June 26 and June 29. The survey concluded that in some places minimal ground cover could create a high probability of disturbing the graves. Consequently, and after many conversations and serious consideration, I feel excavating within the walls of the cemetery presents a significant risk of disturbing remains. This is a risk I am not prepared nor willing to take.”

This language softly expressed what many in the UM community have demanded—no new headstones will be added to the cemetery—but without granting his critics a victory.

Boyce released an additional statement shortly after noon today clarifying UM’s position on the addition of headstones, writing, “First, to reiterate and clarify a point from my July 14 message, we will not add headstones to the cemetery. The graves are too shallow to add headstones without the possibility of disturbing the remains, which would be inappropriate and I am not willing to do that.”

Boyce also commented on the chorus of critics who have spoken out against university relocation plans in the last few weeks. “I take seriously the concerns expressed by various  student and faculty groups pertaining to certain elements of the project, and I have met over the last two weeks with faculty members, elected leaders of undergraduate and graduate student groups and the leadership of the Faculty Senate to discuss those concerns directly. I take responsibility and apologize for the concerns that resulted,” he said in today’s statement.

Arielle Hudson is thrilled that the statue finally moved, although she wishes the university would have announced when it was moving. “I’m glad that it’s finally moved. I saw videos of them doing it yesterday,” she said.

Again, though, the lack of transparency was jarring to the university’s first Black woman to be named a Rhodes Scholar. “I was a little disappointed that it was kept under the radar because we actually wanted to be there to see it moved, but I guess we understand why they did it that way,” she  said. “Obviously, there are still a few problems as far as the plan that they are planning to pursue in addition to the relocation.”

Hudson also has thoughts for Boyce about the language he used to convey that headstones would not be added to the cemetery, after all. The chancellor’s shallow-grave notion felt like an excuse to her.

“I wish he would just come out and say, “we’re not going to [place new headstones] because they’re historically inaccurate, that they wouldn’t be educationally appropriate,” Hudson said.

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 data@mississippifreepress.com.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Comments

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

 The Mississippi Free Press is nonprofit, solutions journalism for Mississippians and others who care about the state. 

Our newsroom runs on donations from people who care about Mississippi and this reporting. We thank you for reading and ask for your financial support.

Click the Support button below or at the very top of the site. Your donation will be made through the Community Foundation for Mississippi, our fiscal agent. Thank you!

Donate to our 2021 Capital Campaign today!