TUPELO • The Lee County Board of Supervisors will keep a Confederate monument on the grounds of the old county courthouse in downtown Tupelo despite a proposal to move it elsewhere.
District 4 Supervisor Tommie Lee Ivy, the board’s lone Black member, motioned during a Monday meeting to relocate the county’s Confederate monument. None of the other four supervisors, all white, offered a second. Since the motion did not receive a second, the motion died, and no vote occurred.
Ivy previously told the Daily Journal that he believed the county should not prominently display the monument since “the Civil War is over with,” and that the monument should be relocated because it is “intimidating to Black people.”
Ivy told the Journal that he still stands by his previous statement and believes that his feelings toward the statue are just what he believes “is the right thing to do.”
“I’ve had a lot of emails and phone calls from people – both Black and white – asking me to please move the statue.”
For weeks, the county officials have heard from citizens who both support and oppose the statue’s relocation.
District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan at the meeting said that he decided not to support relocating the monument because he believed that moving it would not have any “effective results in race relations in the county,” and that by not voting to relocate the statue he was in “no way condoning slavery or racism.”
“I am convinced the only way to change racism in men and women is to change their hearts,” Morgan said. “I believe God is the only answer.”
Other supervisors offered similar comments to Morgan’s and said that moving the statue would not solve any problems in the county.
District 5 Supervisor Billy Joe Holland said that he didn’t “see a purpose” for moving the monument and if it offended a group of people in one area of town then it would offend them if the statue was moved to another area of town.
“They just haven’t convinced me that moving that is going to solve anything,” Holland said.
The monument was first erected in 1906 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was initially placed on Main Street, but it was relocated in the 1930s to the southwest corner of the old Lee Courthouse, where it currently stands. The building now houses the offices of the county tax assessor and the collector. One of the inscriptions on the monument states that “those who die for a right principle, do not die in vain.”
Most academic historians conclude that Confederate monuments such as the one in Lee County were erected as part of the “Lost Cause” movement that attempted to gloss over the atrocities of slavery in the South and create the myth that the U.S. Civil War was not fought over slavery.
Cities and counties in the state are largely limited to what they can do regarding Confederate monuments. The Mississippi Legislature previously passed a law that prohibits governing bodies from removing military monuments, including Confederate monuments, although the law does not list any penalties if a governing body does remove a monument. The law, signed by former Gov. Haley Barbour, says that governing bodies can relocate a memorial “to a more suitable location.”
The board’s vote comes at a time when several cities and counties throughout the state are reckoning with Confederate iconography that is prominently displayed on its public property.
In June, supervisors in Bolivar, Leflore, Lowndes, Noxubee and Washington counties voted to move Confederate statues away from courthouses and other prominent locations.
But in Neshoba and Lafayette counties, supervisors rejected proposals to relocate Confederate monuments to more obscure or less prominent places.
The University of Mississippi, located in Lafayette County, last month officially relocated its Confederate monument from the center of its campus to the Confederate cemetery, which is currently behind a former basketball stadium.
Leah Davis, a Tupelo native, has led the efforts over the past few weeks in advocating for the statue’s relocation. Davis on Twitter Monday morning said that the board’s vote does not mark the end of her and other residents’ advocacy for the statue’s removal.