State politicians disagree on who has final say in Confederate monument relocation

Posted on Mar 27 2019 - 5:50am by Taylor Vance

State legislators who authored the bill that dictates how military monuments can be relocated have different opinions about who has the final authority to actually relocate the Confederate monument that stands in the center of the Ole Miss campus.

File photo Semaj Jordan

The bill, which was signed into law by former Gov. Haley Barbour in 2004, states, “The governing body may move the memorial to a more suitable location if it is determined that the location is more appropriate to displaying the monument.”

Mike Chaney, who is the Republican insurance commissioner for the state, served as one of the main authors and said the intent of the bill was to prevent cemeteries and battlefield sites in his hometown from being altered.

“When I co-authored and voted for the Mississippi Military Memorial Protection Act, I did so out of an abundance of caution to prevent sites like the battlefield in Vicksburg from being altered,” Chaney said.

Chaney, who is a Vietnam War veteran, said many cemeteries and battlefield sites had been vandalized and that he thought this legislation would change that.

“I think it’s important to note that the law also prevents changes to monuments from a host of other military events and figures,” Chaney said. “The law also allows for the governing body to move a memorial to a more suitable location, should they so decide. In this case, (the state college board) is the governing body.”

Chaney said there were several Republican and Democratic lawmakers who signed on as authors of the bill.

“Our history can be ugly and complicated, but good things are a part of it, too — especially freedom,” Chaney said. “Freedom comes at a price — the price of death — for many whom we seek to remember.”

State Sen. Deborah Dawkins, a Democratic lawmaker from Harrison County, was also an author of the bill and said she, like Chaney, signed on as an author of the bill in order to protect military cemeteries in her district. Dawkins, however, believes that the state college board (IHL) is not the governing body with authority over Ole Miss’s statue. She maintains the decision to relocate campus statues in Mississippi lies with groups on campus.

“I think (IHL) is over policies of purchasing, certification, educational matters and things like that,” Dawkins said. “I would think, for each campus in the state of Mississippi, whoever the lead group on that campus is would be the ones that would be in charge of relocating a military monument.”

Dawkins said that, from what she remembers, the intent of the bill was not centered around Confederate monuments.

Stacey Pickering, who is currently the head of the Veterans Affairs Board for the state, was also a co-author for the bill and said its intent was to protect the voices of all veterans in the state, regardless of the time period in which the veterans served.

Pickering, who described his job as ensuring that all veterans have a voice and respect, said it’s important to look at all history: good, bad and different.

Pickering said he thought the university was being “very measured” in its response and that the university coordinating with IHL and the Department of Archives and History is the best approach in dealing with relocating the Confederate statue.  

“I think when it comes to our wars, whether we understand or don’t understand, I think it’s important in every aspect that we approach history and approach our fellow Mississippians cautiously and keep them in context,” Pickering said. “No matter what era.”