Mississippi State University’s president released a statement condemning overt racism and bigotry this week. It was another move that works in favor of the idea that MSU is the “People’s University.” Last year, the school also removed the Mississippi state flag from the campus. It’s time for the school to discuss its own history specifically the part that includes Stephen D. Lee and John Stone. These two men did much in the way of stunting progress in post-Civil War Mississippi.
Lee, a former Confederate general, was tasked with establishing the school complete with military instruction. The problem is that Lee remained a staunch supporter of the Confederacy until his death holding memberships with confederate veterans organizations to preserve the history. It’s a conflict to take a stand against the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag and still uphold the honor of Lee regardless of the fact that he led the school’s administration. His bust, building, boulevard, and whatever else should go.
John Stone also causes a conflict. The man is the face of Jim Crow Mississippi; as governor, oppressive acts of legislation were passed to keep freed men and women away from the liberties that whites enjoyed. Stone succeeded Lee as president in Starkville. The university now boasts of its diversity and, notably, its enrollment of Black students in comparison to some of the state’s own HBCUs.
For or far too long, the institution has turned a blind eye to these and other figures and moments that do not fit the identity it is selling to the public. If it truly wants to make a statement about the Mississippi stepping out of the shadows of its oppressive past, Mississippi State has to look no further than its own campus.