After President Pearigen released the cannon statement to the campus, I immediately reflected on my awareness of the cannon—which I ultimately determined was minuscule. Shortly after determining that I was only minimally aware, I then reflected on my quick runs across the Millsaps campus—as time is never on my side. Even then, I only remember myself scurrying between classes either with a rumbling stomach to the Café or with headphones pumping an energetic song to motivate me to study.
Either way in my scurrying, I hardly noticed the cannon let alone recognized it as a civil war-era artifact because—unfortunately—Civil War-era artifacts speckle much of the Mississippi landscape—which grants a contentious issue prevailing Southern culture.
Ironically, back in my hometown, there is a neat row of cannons on a hill, and they are aimed—albeit with a slightly arrogant prowess—towards the sky, which my town boastfully displays in addition to Civil War reenactments in the sweltering summer months.
Every day, I saw these cannons as my mother drove me and my brother to school or we picked up groceries at Sunflower. So, it is possible to say that my awareness of civil war artifacts is a bit… normalized—which is not to say I accept their presence, but their presence was forced onto my consciousness. Understandably, it is a daunting task to even criticize a civil war-era artifact, not in fear of retaliation, but with an apprehension of being labeled as an aggressive, holier-than-thou “social justice warrior.”
Although removing civil-war related artifacts is certainly progressive, I believe removing the civil-war era cannon is only the first step towards change for racial equality, healing, and understanding.
Even though the cannon has been visible outside the Academic Complex for over a century, I whole-heartedly agree that its removal is a symbolic gesture of change nonetheless; the cannon belonged to a sordid time in American history, where racism, inequality, and hatred dominated the life of my ancestors.
Some may claim the cannon is history, nothing more than a relic to connect us all to the “Great Antebellum South,” but what part of history are we actually discussing here? Do we include vital but lesser-known figures like Elizabeth Keckley who was a confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln, or Native American tribes who fought bravely amongst the very nation that deprived them of their land in our “history”?
It seems that American history is only valued as an artifact and as a narrative to only highlight American grandeur—which probably explains why I walked so aimlessly past the cannon on my daily routes across campus.
Every day, I drove past cannons in my hometown. Every day, I walked past a cannon at Millsaps—disregarding whether I should have paid more attention or not—because America has a love story with re-telling and displaying its most prized, yet controversial artifacts for all to see.
Whether my delayed reaction to the cannon may be debatable regarding my “wokeness,” I believe a more important response now is to generate more diversity amongst students, faculty, and staff at Millsaps. In other words, now that we’ve gotten rid of a symbolic reminder of one of America’s darkest times, what is the next step towards racial healing and reconciliation?
Now, it’s apparent to me and even outside viewers that Millsaps has diversified in terms of race, identity, and tolerance with organizations like Pan-African Student Alliance, Millsaps Men, and Millsaps Pride to name a few. By far and large, I have experienced a medley of conversations with open-minded individuals whom are willing to dive deep into tough topics like race, sexuality, social justice, etc.—which I have never experienced at any of my previous institutions.
So, Millsaps is doing something right in creating an atmosphere to discuss and experience diversity; however, only 39% of Millsaps’s student body is comprised of students of color.
Where are the students, instructors, and staff who are directly affected by race, prejudice, and insecurities due to their darker skin tone? Should not the people who live these experiences with external and internal battles weigh in more on these conversations about race and diversity?
On the surface, 39% may appear to be a decent number regarding people of color or BIPOC; however, once the percentage is broken down further the ratio in comparison to White students is shockingly minimal. The statistic of African-American students compared to White students is 14.1%, with Asian students at 4%, International students at 4%, Hispanic students at 2%, and other different ethnicities fairing at an even lower percentage.
The same percentages are approximately the same when comparing the ethnic diversity of faculty with a slightly higher percentage of African American faculty at 15.6% while other ethnicities barely registered above 1%.
Now, I did not get accepted into Millsaps to “blackify” it because I admire being black and being an American, but I also have an appreciation for other cultures; however, I see a need for more representation for students of color in all aspects of campus life.
So, removing a cannon is progressive because Millsaps is certainly more open-minded than the town I went to school, shopped, and lived in for the majority of my life; however, only removing an artifact without action to further racial healing and diversity is the beginning to a devoted journey towards real equality.
Maybe I do not notice things when I should like civil war cannons per se, but something I will notice is increased diversity amongst students, faculty, and staff to partake in these collective experiences at this wonderful college.
This article was written using a variety of secondary sources.
If you are interested in learning more about Millsap’s college demographics, Elizabeth Keckley, or Native American Tribes who fought in the Civil War, please visit the following:
Elizabeth Keckley”. Virginia Museum of History and Culture, 19 April 2018.www.virginia
“How Diverse Is Millsaps College?” College Factual, 19 June 2020, www.collegefactual.com/
“We Are All Americans-Native Americans in the Civil War”. We are All Americans-Native
Americans in the Civil War/ City of Alexandria, VA 26 Aug 2017. www.alexandriava.gov