JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The University of Mississippi has put up a barrier to partially obstruct a Confederate monument after football players said they didn’t want to see the rebel soldier statue while they practice.
The university moved the statue in mid-July from a central spot on the Oxford campus to a Civil War cemetery. Although the cemetery is in a remote part of campus, it’s on a hill that’s easily visible from a practice field outside the football stadium.
“Over the summer, Chancellor (Glenn) Boyce met with several student-athletes who expressed concern regarding the statue’s new location at the cemetery on campus in relation to the vantage point from the football practice field,” university spokesman Rod Guajardo said in a statement. “In response, the university is installing a temporary screen around the monument.”
The mesh covering over a chain link fence will remain “until permanent, limited landscaping can be planted later this fall, the optimal time of year for the plantings to take root,” Guajardo said in the statement sent to The Associated Press on Thursday and to other news organizations this week.
University of Mississippi sports teams are called the Rebels, but the school has taken steps the past 20 years to distance itself from Confederate imagery, often amid resistance from tradition-bound donors and alumni.
The University of Mississippi was founded in 1848, and the soldier statue was put up in 1906 near the main administration building. It was one of many Confederate monuments erected across the South more than a century ago.
Critics said the statue’s prominence sent a signal that Ole Miss glorifies the Confederacy and glosses over the South’s history of slavery.
Student and faculty groups sought for years to move the statue, and the state College Board on June 18 approved a relocation plan. The decision happened amid widespread debate over Confederate symbols as people across the U.S. and in other countries loudly marched through the streets to protest racism and police violence against African Americans.
Workers moved the statue to the cemetery July 14, two weeks after Mississippi surrendered the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem. Chain-link fencing was put up around the monument while a sidewalk and lighting were being installed. The mesh screen was recently added on the side facing the football practice field.
The university retired its Colonel Reb mascot in 2003 amid criticism that the bearded old man looked like a plantation owner. In 1997, administrators banned sticks in the football stadium, which largely stopped people from waving Confederate battle flags. The marching band no longer plays “Dixie.”
Since 2016, the university has installed plaques to provide historical context about the Confederate monument and about slaves who built some campus buildings before the Civil War.