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After Losing Vote, Black Neshoba Countians Vow to Never Stop Until Rebel Statue Moves

Black Empowerment Organization members lost their first round in the fight to move the Confederate statue from the Neshoba County (Miss.) courthouse grounds in the summer of 2020, but vow to keep fighting until they win. Photo by Donna Ladd.

Early Monday July 20, Black Empowerment Organization President Tiffon Moore looked over her stack of documents. Her group was set to present a petition to the Neshoba County Board of Supervisors.

At 10:30 a.m., as the supervisors looked on, Moore built her case that the Confederate statue outside the county courthouse belongs in a museum, citing Neshoba County’s history, demographics and the potential for unity in the county.

Tiffon Moore, 29, says she won’t give up until the Confederate statue moves. Courtesy Tiffon Moore.

White, elderly Neshobans who showed up to speak at the meeting raised typical counterpoints. Removing the statue from the courthouse yard would be Marxism in practice, one argued. (The local newspaper shares that view.) The statue’s purpose was to honor the dead, another noted. Statues of George Washington might be next, one more hypothesized.

But it was Kemper County resident David Beshears who served as the BEO’s living example of why they believe the statue ought to be moved.

“First off, I’m not a member of your community,” Beshears told the board. “I don’t live here. I live 32 miles to the east of here … What makes me a member of your community is I come here and spend my money,” he said, adding that he has friends and family from the area.

Beshears, with an empty gun holster strapped to his leg, alleged that BEO members stalked and threatened him for flying the old Mississippi flag moments before he entered the courthouse.

Black Empowerment Organization member Desmond Moore had an argument with Kemper County man David Beshears outside the courthouse on July 20, 2020. Courtesy Desmond Moore.

“As I drove around this courthouse square with my state flag that I was born under, flying on the back of my truck about 30 minutes ago, some of the young people out front stalked me all the way around this courthouse for three loops, yelling hate,” he said.

Beshears urged the group to pool money and erect a statue of one of “your heroes” on the other end of the courthouse lawn. “Y’all have come a long way. All of you—all of us have,” he later said.

He quickly left the room when he finished speaking, nearly forgetting his things as he headed for the door.

‘I Just Want Love and Peace in Our Town’

BEO members Desmond Moore, 27, and Tatyana Fox, 25, were the “young people” he referenced. The two were simply walking around the courthouse, they said, when they saw Beshears hitch the flag after a second lap. He stopped his truck and stared at them.

“The flag is a disgrace,” Desmond Moore said he told him.

Beshears stepped out from his truck and put his hand on his gun holster, Moore and Fox claimed.

Tatyana Fox is a member of the new Black Empowerment Organization in Neshoba County. Courtesy Tatyana Fox.

When a WTOK reporter outside the courthouse texted Neshoba County Sheriff Eric Clark to warn him of a potential fight, Clark sent a deputy downstairs, who told Beshears to keep his gun in his truck.

“My deputy didn’t see any kind of confrontation,” Clark told the Mississippi Free Press. “It must have happened before (Beshears) parked. As far as anything going on that my guy had knowledge of, he didn’t have anything other than second-hand information.”

Clark said he encouraged the BEO to file a report.

“There’s been a couple different times that (BEO members) have gathered and spent time on the courthouse lawn,” he said. “I’ve never had any problems whatsoever. I don’t think there’s any violence intended.”

Tiffon Moore, president of the Black Empowerment Organization, speaks to the Neshoba County Board of Supervisors Monday, July 20, 2020. Moore’s group is advocating to move the Confederate monument outside the courthouse. Photo by Ryan Oehrli.

Shortly after Beshears left, the other version of the story traveled upstairs.

“This is what we are dealing with,” Tiffon Moore, 29, told the board, Fox by her side. “This is what we’re facing: constant harassment, constant intimidation and constant lies for trying to voice our opinions. It’s not OK. … That is what’s happening outside this courthouse right now. We have been intimidated for weeks now, we’ve received hate mail for weeks now, threats for weeks now …  And that’s why we’re here today, because we need help getting our voices heard, and it isn’t fair that we’re being intimidated for using our First Amendment rights guaranteed to us.”

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Fox added. “I find it very sad and devastating that (we) as kids have to go through this. We’re tired of it … I just want love and peace in our town, and that everything comes together as one for our community.

“We’re Not Going to Stop’

Immediately after Moore and Fox left the room, the board voted 4-1 to keep the statue on the courthouse yard.

“Motion to keep the statue where it is,” District 4 Supervisor Kevin Wilcher said nonchalantly. District 3 Supervisor Kinsey Smith quickly seconded the motion.

Neshoba County Supervisor Obbie Riley, the only Black member, asked members why Confederate soldiers got special privileges over U.S. soldiers in other wars. Courtesy Neshoba County Board of Supervisors.

Every supervisor but one—District 5’s Obbie Riley, the only Black supervisor—voted to keep the monument on the courthouse lawn. Riley was also the only supervisor to discuss the statue at the meeting.

Why, he asked, should Neshoba County’s Confederate dead not receive the same treatment as other soldiers who fought and lost against the United States?

Riley served in the Coast Guard for 22 years.

The board moved to its next item without further comment, and the meeting was adjourned in honor of John Lewis, the civil rights icon and U.S. congressman who died Saturday.

“It’s normal,” Riley said of his colleagues not discussing the statue. “Pretty much, their minds were made up before they came into the room. That’s southern politics.”

“It’s deeply disappointing,” said Brandon Jones, the director of the Mississippi Southern Poverty Law Center’s Action Fund. “What you have in Neshoba County is what you see across our state and country—communities raising their voices and asking leaders to consider the iconography and memorials in front of our buildings. The board had a good opportunity to do something that would have been uplifting for the whole community.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center is now helping local BEO members continue their fight to move the rebel-soldier statue in Neshoba County. But the local group is doing the heavy lifting, SPLC said. Photo by Ryan OehrlI.

The SPLC released a statement backing the BEO’s efforts last week, and another in response to the vote.

“In this case, the BEO did all the heavy lifting,” Jones said. “My impression is that they will continue to raise this issue.”

The BEO will continue to organize for the statue’s removal. “We’re going to continue with our efforts,” Tiffon Moore said. “We’re not going to stop … If we have to show up for every meeting they have, that’s what we’re going to do.”

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