Leah Willingham, Associated Press, August 8, 2021
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.
The Leflore County Board of Supervisors voted in June 2020 to remove the statue, erected in 1913 by the Varina Jefferson Davis Chapter 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.”
But community members pushed for removal. The Black board members voted 4-0 to remove the statue. The lone white member didn’t attend the meeting. He told the local newspaper he’d have voted to keep the statue.
Member Robert Collins said the statue didn’t bother him, but that if it caused pain for others, it should go. He was vocal in his opinion that another monument shouldn’t replace it, regardless of meaning or intent.
Still, the statue stands, the process slowed by bureaucracy with no concrete plan for removal.
In April, Democratic state Sen. David Jordan of Greenwood reignited a conversation about a Till statue in the city of 13,500. He’s one of the last people alive locally who attended the trial for Till’s killers.
Sen. Jordan said it’d be poetic justice to erect the Till statue in front of the courthouse — where dogs were set on Black residents trying to register to vote, in a city where racist Citizens’ Councils maintained regional headquarters.
“If we can show that change can happen here, it can happen anywhere,” Jordan said.
But the board wouldn’t budge. Collins said in April that allowing the Till statue at the courthouse would be a “double standard.”
Ultimately, late last month, the council voted unanimously in favor of erecting the Till statue, just not at the courthouse. Instead, the statue will go up in a park a half-mile away.