Home State Wide Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis statue has new neighbor in U.S. Capitol: Arkansas civil rights leader

Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis statue has new neighbor in U.S. Capitol: Arkansas civil rights leader


A week ago, Arkansas officials unveiled a new statue at the National Statuary Hall to represent the state, civil rights leader Daisy Bates.

Her statue now stands next to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, one of two statues representing Mississippi.

“This is absolutely embarrassing to the Mississippi that I love,” said Al Price, who has called for changing the state’s statues ever since he saw them in 2012 in Washington, D.C. He sought unsuccessfully in 2017 to get state Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Winona, to sponsor a bill to do so.

He recommends that author William Faulkner and civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer represent the state. “This would be a profound statement by the state of Mississippi,” he said. “It would challenge a lot of the negative stereotypes about the state and would go a long way to healing a lot of wounds.”

Since 2000, 17 states have installed new statues or moved to replace existing statues at the hall in the U.S. Capitol.

Alabama now has Helen Keller. Arizona has Barry Goldwater. California has Ronald Reagan. Kansas has Amelia Earhart and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Michigan has Gerald Ford. Missouri has Harry Truman. Ohio has Thomas Edison. And North Carolina will add Billy Graham on Thursday.

Mississippi, however, has the same statues that were erected almost a century ago, both of them Confederate leaders.

Some Southern states are replacing Confederate icons with more modern heroes. Arkansas now has Bates; Virginia, Barbara Johns; and Florida, Mary McLeod Bethune, one of the most important Black educators of the 20th century. Congress has added Rosa Parks as well.

The contributions of Native Americans have also been recognized in a number of states, including Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming.

A state can change its statues through a resolution that is adopted by the Legislature and approved by the governor. 

“We just need to have someone courageous enough in the Legislature to do so,” Price said.

In 2019, Arkansas voted to replace both of its statues, Uriah Rose, who supported Arkansas seceding from the Union, and former U.S. Sen. James Paul Clarke, who vowed to uphold “white supremacy.”

Their replacements are Bates, a mentor to the Little Rock Nine, and music legend Johnny Cash, whose statue is slated to arrive in September.

At the same time Arkansas is switching out the statues that represent the state in Washington, Mississippi has not seriously considered such a change.

“Mississippi could learn a lot from its neighbor,” said Robert Luckett, associate professor of history and director of the Margaret Walker Center for the Study of the African American Experience at Jackson State University.”It’s long past time that the Blackest state in the nation recognize the courageous men and women who, like Daisy Bates, believed in this nation and its great potential. There are plenty to choose from: Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer in particular.”

During his time as Mississippi’s governor, Phil Bryant talked of Elvis Presley and B.B. King as “good possibilities” for possible replacements for a statue.

Mississippi’s most controversial statue is that of Davis, who believed, like many of his Southern peers, that those of African descent were meant to serve the white race.

“We recognize the fact of the inferiority stamped upon that race by the Creator, and from cradle to grave, our government, as a civil institution, marks that inferiority,” he declared in an 1860 speech.

The state’s other statue is a political figure that many Mississippians may not recognize — J.Z. George, who fought in the Civil War and later became the charging force in disenfranchising Black Mississippians through the 1890 state constitution and restoring “white supremacy” to government.

James K. Vardaman, the racist governor and U.S. senator who aided George in that fight, said the constitution was adopted “for no other purpose than to eliminate the n—– from politics.” White supremacy had to be maintained, even if it meant every Black Mississippian had to be lynched, he said.

Within a decade, the number of Black registered voters fell from more than 130,000 to less than 1,300. 

Credit: Courtesy of Charles Sims

George’s great-great-great grandson, Charles Sims, recently recommended that his ancestor’s statue be moved from Statuary Hall back to Mississippi, where he said it belongs.

“We cannot erase the past, but neither should we be a prisoner of it, either,” Sims said. “I think the statue should be removed from the Capitol because we cannot honor racial hatred.”

Statuary Hall still holds the statues of six Confederate leaders, a third of them representing the Magnolia State.

In a recent online poll, 592 Mississippi Today readers gave their top votes for possible statues to Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in 1963 and who was honored recently with the Presidential Medal of Honor, as the top choice with 40% of the votes. Hamer received 26%; Faulkner, 21%; crusading journalist Ida B. Wells, 16%; music icon Elvis Presley, 15%; author Eudora Welty, 12%; former Gov. William Winter, 11%; and blues legend B.B. King, 9%.

Kevin Greene, history professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, said his nomination would be Evers, who fought for his country, first on the battlefield against the Nazis and later on the battlefield against Jim Crow, he said. “All of the good things embedded in America are embedded in Medgar Evers.”

He suggested discussions across communities regarding what statues should represent the state. “Mississippi needs to lead the way in these conversations,” he said. “These are opportunities to teach and to reconcile our past as some nations ought to and haven’t.”

Pam Junior, former director of the History of Mississippi Museum and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, said the state is supposed to have experienced this paradigm shift, starting with the state flag, “but we keep going backwards and allow statues like these to continue to represent Mississippi.”

As a replacement, she suggests “Medgar Wiley Evers, who was for all people, not just one group of people,” she said. “Until we make that paradigm shift, we’re never going to move up. We have to start with us.”

The post Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis statue has new neighbor in U.S. Capitol: Arkansas civil rights leader appeared first on Mississippi Today.

Mississippi Today