The Civil War: Held over for eternity

By WILLIAM JEANES,

Ms. Adria Walker, editor-in-chief of Millsaps College’s student newspaper, says that it is “Time to Let Go of Major Millsaps,” referring to both the man who founded the school and to the school mascot. She calls the mascot, a bad copy of Colonel Rebel wearing a purple uniform, “bourgeoisie” and “racist.” Major Reuben Webster Millsaps, CSA, she finds unspeakable because he fought in the Civil War (1861-65) for what he perceived to be his country.

The mascot is gone, not so the major. He and his wife have occupied a mausoleum on the Millsaps campus for over a century. Ms. Walker considers it to be a Confederate monument.

Ms. Walker reveals that the major’s father was among Mississippi’s 31,000 slave owners. She hints that this information has been suppressed.

She notes that the major donated $5 toward the building of a CSA memorial at Shiloh. That’s $123 in today’s money. His donations to Millsaps totaled $500,000, that’s $12.3 million, using her formula.

It gets worse. The Millsaps crest bears three stars representing the college’s three founders, one being the ex-major. The insignia of a CSA major was one star. That the major’s likeness appears in campus publications is abhorrent. All on-campus use of the word “major” is repugnant.

Ms. Walker is a fifth-generation Mississippian and is the direct descendant of slaves. Her forebears earned for her an undeniable right to comment on slavery, racism, and segregation; Millsaps has provided her a forum. The Constitution of her nation protects her speech.

I will not fall into the trap of saying, “I know how Ms. Walker feels,” because I don’t. And she doesn’t know how I feel. But we do have some common ground.

I share Ms. Walker’s conviction that the South fought the Civil War to preserve slavery. Mississippi seceded to preserve slavery. Look it up.

My Civil War reading is extensive if not exhaustive. It tells me that Rhett Butler was right; the South was doomed militarily from the outset. Slavery was morally doomed before that. 

I believe, as did Gen. Robert E. Lee, that Confederate memorials should not go much beyond headstones. Lee considered them divisive and detrimental to the healing process. Recent events underscore his prescience.

Many Southerners did not accept that their lost cause was also a wrong cause. Defending an ill-advised bloodbath that Southern leaders started and then lost I find, well, indefensible.

I am a Millsaps graduate, history major, fourth-generation Mississippian, veteran, pro-choice Republican, agnostic, writer, and editor. I am 79 years old.

I am not descended from slaves; my great-great-grandfather fled Ireland’s Great Hunger in the 1840s and became an Alcorn County dirt farmer. He owned no slaves and was a Confederate soldier.

My Civil War advisory is this: Get over it.

Ms. Walker’s commentary reveals a reluctance to follow that advice. Note that I do not suggest that she get over slavery. Or even segregation. She can’t. I can’t. The country can’t. But after 152 years, we might cut each other some slack. Yet, here’s what Ms. Walker wants done:

“If Millsaps really wants to consider itself a ‘progressive’ campus, it needs to not only expunge the racist mascot but also denounce the actions of Reuben Millsaps and apologize to all descendants of enslaved people that it has taken this long to do so. In 2017, a century after Millsaps’ (sic) death, this institution needs to acknowledge and admonish its white supremacist, Confederate namesake.”

Wow. We should be grateful, I suppose, that she did not call for dynamiting his crypt and dragging his bones through the streets of Hazlehurst.

I do not and cannot speak for Millsaps College. But I say that Millsaps doesn’t “need” to do anything, certainly not make persons who never owned slaves apologize to persons who were never enslaved. 

But if it will help, here’s my personal apology; I take responsibility for it:

As an alumnus of Millsaps, I apologize for any part I may have had in the career of Reuben Webster Millsaps. I find his father’s slaveholding deplorable.

More important, Millsaps was the first college in our state to voluntarily desegregate. That was not a manifestation of "bourgeoisie" white privilege; it was an effort to do the right thing. Millsaps took that step 52 years ago, and it does not need to apologize today.

William Jeanes is a Northsider.

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