Opinion: Why do we glorify those who served to maintain white supremacy?

Posted on Oct 19 2018 - 5:50am by Jacob Gambrell

At long last, four weeks after his sexist and racist Facebook post, the IHL has decided to remove Ed Meek’s name from the School of Journalism and New Media. The university has taken a strong, swift step forward, and, hopefully, very soon his name will be physically removed from the building. His statements told the black members of our community that they are not welcome in Oxford.  He implied that their presence in Oxford will only lower property values and decrease enrollment numbers.

Ed Meek’s comments directly oppose the values exuded in the UM Creed, and I agree that his name needs to go. However, is it not a bit hypocritical that we remove his name from a building, while retaining the names of many other men who definitely did not “believe in respect for the dignity of each person?” While we’re on it, we might as well consider not glorifying some men who did far more than post a racist and sexist Facebook post.  

While, yes, I know that nearly every white, wealthy person from the 19th to mid-20th century in Mississippi held views on race that we would consider abhorrent today. While some may have opposed slavery, Jim Crow laws and lynchings, they were not the majority, and you would be hard-pressed to find white southerners of those eras who truly believed that white and black people were inherently equal. So, I do not advocate changing the name of every building named for anyone who held racist views, but I do for the names of the buildings named in honor of the most powerful men who developed and enacted policies that preserved white supremacy in our state for centuries.   

Although plans have been made to remove his name, Mississippi governor and U.S. Sen. James Vardaman, one of the most vile and abhorrent politicians in American history, still has his name remains on a building. As the DM reported, James Alexander Ventress owned 250 human beings as his private property. U.S. Sen. James Z. George and Oxford’s own U.S. Sen. and Supreme Court Justice Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II both were members of the Mississippi Secession Convention, helping draft the Mississippi Articles of Succession which affirmed slavery and scientific racism stating, “By an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.” These men both fought and led soldiers to maintain their right to own human beings. Mississippi governors Martin Conner and Paul B. Johnson both led the state during the reign of white supremacy, and Johnson had close ties to infamous segregationist governor Ross Barnett.  

All of these men had the power to make positive change for African-Americans and other marginalized communities and chose to preserve their own power instead. Are Meek’s comments worse than these actions? Of course not. We should never honor these men no matter how much they supported the university or Oxford.

In addition, two of the eight black U.S. senators in history are Sen. Hiram Rhodes Revels and Sen. Blanche Bruce from Mississippi. Hopefully they may be honored, along with Ida B. Wells-Barnett, at prominent locations on the “most beautiful campus in the nation.”

Jacob Gambrell is a senior international studies major from Chattanooga, Tennessee.