Greenwood, Mississippi Asks What Comes After Confederate MonumentsHistorians in the News
tags: statues, Confederacy, Mississippi, public history
For more than a century, one of Mississippi’s most elaborate Confederate monuments has looked out over the lawn at the courthouse in the center of Greenwood, a Black-majority city with a history of civil rights protests and clashes. Protesters have demonstrated at the base of the towering pillar with six Confederate figures — some residents demanding removal amid a racial reckoning across the country, others advocating for the statue’s protection as a piece of history.
Now, after years of debate, a new statue will be erected in Greenwood — one of Emmett Till, the Black 14-year-old brutally beaten and shot in 1955 by white men 10 miles from the city. The likeness of Till, whose death is still under federal investigation, will be one of only a handful of statues of African Americans in Mississippi, where dozens of Confederate monuments dot the landscape at courthouses, town squares and other prominent locations.
Greenwood is one of hundreds of cities and towns nationwide grappling with painful, expensive questions: What should be done with these tributes to the Civil War and the Confederate soldiers who fought in it? And what monuments should go up in their place to represent the community?
Across Mississippi, multiple places have voted to remove monuments; the few that have followed through found it costly, with a $1-million bill at the University of Mississippi. In Charlottesville, Va., a Gen. Robert E. Lee figure was recently carted away — nearly four years after a deadly, racist rally there. Dozens of Confederate statues fell nationwide during the 2020 protests sparked by George Floyd’s death — many in liberal-leaning urban centers.
But far fewer cities have solidified plans for new tributes or monuments in their place.
In Greenwood, as in many places, change has come slowly.
The Leflore County Board of Supervisors voted in June 2020 to remove the statue, erected in 1913 by the Varina Jefferson Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The board — where four of five members are Black — stipulated that the monument not be replaced by any piece honoring the civil rights movement.
The vote followed a yearslong debate about what to do with the monument, after a Black public schoolteacher and his father, Troy Brown Jr. and Troy Brown Sr., began petitioning for removal in 2017. The county initially considered leaving the Confederate statue and building a civil rights monument on the lawn for “balance.”
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