GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - During their regularly scheduled meeting at the county courthouse in Gulfport, the Harrison County Board of Supervisors listened to residents of the county and their concerns in support of and against the removal of the Confederate soldier statue on the grounds of the county courthouse in Gulfport, as well as the marker on Highway 49.
The public forum, originally intended to include arguments about the state flag, was focused on the 109-year old statue that resides mere feet away from the board chambers.
“Lest we forget” are the words etched on a monument erected in the memory of Confederate soldiers lost in the war between the states. The discussion regarding the removal and even the reassignment of the Confederate soldier statue took center stage in Monday’s meeting.
Harrison County resident, John Whitfield, addressed the board in favor of removing the monument.
“The statue should be removed. It should be relocated from the footsteps of the courthouse, the place that dispenses justice, to a place more appropriate. A museum, Beauvoir would be a good place... not here at the courthouse,” Whitfield said. “It pays homage to the fallen of the Confederacy. It... that whole notion of us paying homage to the Confederacy, on public property, is inappropriate,” he said.
There is one place, Whitfield said, that is a more fitting location for the tribute.
“Beauvoir is a historical place. It is a place where you can go and research the history of the Confederacy. That’s where it’s more appropriate,” said Whitfield.
He called for a vote on the matter and said that a split vote would not serve the people of Harrison County.
“If the Harrison County Board of Supervisors are to make any changes, they really need to make a unanimous vote to do so. To do anything less than a unanimous vote, is to further divide the county and its residents,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield concluded that his decision isn’t demanded to please or upset one side of the argument or the other.
“What we seek to do is unify the county in ways that it has never been unified. When that statue went up, we were in the midst of Jim Crow and black people didn’t have the right to vote in the state of Mississippi. Black folks couldn’t couldn’t serve on boards of supervisors or in elected positions in this state. We were suffering tremendously. So, we never had an opportunity to address this issue. We do now, and we are,” Whitfield told WLOX.
There were also those that spoke up for keeping the statue. “This Confederate soldier monument was put here for a reason— to commemorate those who lost their lives during the war between the states,” said Harrison County resident, Wallace Mason.
In addition to its historical relevance, Mason said that removing the statue is against the law.
“There’s a law that keeps this monument, on the grounds of the courthouse. That’s the way it should be. The law for Mississippi is 55.15.81. That’s the protection of all monuments, the ones from the American Revolution all the way up to the war memorials of today,” Mason said.
A change of the feelings or opinions of others should not be grounds for removing these historical tributes, Mason said.
“In this day in time— where everybody’s offended and everybody thinks things should be removed, as you are seeing across the country—this monument should stay on the courthouse grounds because it stands for history,” Mason said. “It stands for a devastating period of history where men and their families went to through a devastating part of it, and they should be remembered. All soldiers who fought in the wars, their names should be remembered,” Mason said.
Other war memorials carry the same weight, Mason said, as this century-old statue currently under the spotlight.
“Just like the Vietnam Memorial, there was a lot of controversy over that memorial. But those names on there, they mean something... just like this monument means something. They should never be removed and people should never be allowed to tear down monuments,” Mason told WLOX.
After the public comments, the board, and board attorney Tim Holleman went into discussions of what were the possible next steps. Collectively, the board decided to have Holleman seek interested locations to which the monuments could be relocated.
Board President Connie Rockco stated that additional individuals important to the decision were not available to comment and that a decision should be tabled until a time where all involved could discuss the matter.
At this time, no decisions have been made. This is a developing story and additional information will be released as it is made available.