This story has been updated to clarify that the group Confederate 901 did not participate in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and to show that the rally occurred in 2017, not 2016. As the story correctly noted, that group’s founder and a number of current members did attend the 2017 rally in Charlottesville.
Protesters who participated in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, have organized a protest in Oxford on February 23. The rally in Charlottesville left three dead, 35 injured and the nation in a state of racial, social and political turbulence.
Members of the Confederate 901 and the Hiwaymen, a self proclaimed patriot group, are protesting removal of the Confederate flag and Colonel Reb from football games, the removal of the state flag on campus and the creation of historical contextualization plaques on campus among other things.
“We’re taking a stand for Ole Miss values such as the Confederate monument and the Mississippi state flag,” said Billy Sessions, who founded Confederate 901 and attended the Charlottesville rally. He is not an Ole Miss alumnus nor a parent of an Ole Miss student.
In January, the city of Oxford approved the groups’ permit to have the protest, according to Sessions. The Oxford mayor and the aldermen who represent districts through which protesters plan to march have not yet responded to inquiries regarding the permit approval. It is unclear whether they were aware of the groups’ presence in Charlottesville.
Despite the violence that occurred during the event in Charlottesville, the organizers of the protest don’t think students should be worried about their presence.
“There’s not going be any violence,” Sessions said. “If (counter-protestors) don’t bring any violence, there won’t be any.”
Although Confederate 901 has made several Facebook posts discouraging attendees from violence, some students think that their presence on campus is still a threat.
“It is kind of scary to see something that close to you, especially on a college campus where everything could break loose because you don’t know who’s really supporting them and who’s against them,” freshman accounting major Sha’Cori Ruffin said.
Students Against Social Injustice (SASI), which held a protest calling for the removal of the confederate statue on campus in November 2018, has also expressed concerns about safety at the event.
“The Mississippi Stands Rally poses an imminent threat to students on campus, as both planners for this event have encouraged their followers to bring weapons to other events in the past, and have stated that they will ‘be vigilant’ and do ‘what the law will not do for them,’ and that our existence as a student organization is a threat that protectors of Confederate ideals will ‘no longer tolerate,’” read an official SASI statement released on January 16.
The university released a statement yesterday saying it has engaged with the appropriate authorities to maintain a safe environment for the community. Organizers of the protest said they are also working with law enforcement in the area.
“These are not university-sponsored events,” the university statement read. “Our institutional commitment to free speech and the legal requirement to protect and allow expressions of free speech require us to allow these events to take place, even when expressions of free speech are offensive.”
The protest will occur at the same time as SASI’s national convention is being held on campus, but officers of SASI said they do not have plans to organize a counter-protest.
The convention was planned last semester and the Confederate groups organized the protest in response to SASI’s convention, according to SASI president Quay Williams.
Williams and other SASI officers said they don’t think the protest will disrupt the convention because “they are taking precautions” to avoid any conflict with the protestors.
“I just feel like it isn’t right because it’s Black History Month, and you’re going to have a Confederate protest,” freshman criminal justice major Treasure White said. “(It has) racism written all over it.”
Protestors plan to gather at the Confederate statue on the Square at 1 p.m. and begin marching to the Confederate statue in the Circle at 2 p.m. The event’s Facebook page says 82 people have confirmed they will participate in the march, and 326 people have indicated interest in attending the event.