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Mississippi statues at US Capitol up for debate

Should Mississippi still be represented in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall by two 19th century figures who were prominent in the secessionist movement? Or is it time for the state to honor more modern 20th century leaders?

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant says he’d be willing to talk about possibly replacing the statues that represent the state in the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Gov. Bryant told The Clarion-Ledger he’d be willing to have “a general discussion about the Mississippi statues, particularly J.Z. George.” He added that “B.B. King and Elvis would both be good possibilities for a replacement.”

The Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics will address the issue on Wednesday, in a 6 p.m. program called “Revisiting Jefferson Davis and J.Z. George: U.S. Capitol Relics?”

Overby Center chairman Charles Overby will be joined in the discussion by William “Brother” Rogers, president of the Mississippi Historical Society, and Marvin King, associate professor of political science and African American Studies at the University of Mississippi.

“We expect a robust discussion about whether any 20th century Mississippians should be placed in the Statuary Hall,” said Overby. “A lot has happened since the legislature made their selections in 1931.”

The program will be held in the Overby Center Auditorium. Like all of the center’s events, it is free and open to the public. A reception will be held following the conclusion of the discussion, and arrangements have been made for parking in a lot adjacent to the center.

Rogers served as associate director of the John C. Stennis Center for Public Service at Mississippi State University for 26 years. He graduated from the University of Alabama in 1987, was named a Truman Scholar and earned his master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton University.

As part of his dedication to Mississippi history, Rogers has photographed every historical marker in the state and created a website (www.mississippimarkers.com) that displays nearly 1,300 markers.

King holds a Ph.D from the University of North Texas. A member of the Ole Miss faculty for more than a decade, his core teaching and research interests are African American politics, the politics of the American South and American Federalism. He is a senior faculty fellow at Residential College South.

Each state is allowed to select two people to be honored with statues in the U.S. Capitol. Eighty-six years ago the Mississippi legislature chose Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and George, who signed the ordinance of secession. After the civil war, George became chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court before serving 16 years in the U.S. Senate.

“There is no question that Davis and George were political leaders from Mississippi in the 19th century,” Overby said. “The question is whether there are 20th century Mississippians equally or more deserving to represent Mississippi today. Mississippi has an impressive list of accomplished 20th century citizens worthy of consideration. They range from Senator John Stennis to authors William Faulkner and Eudora Welty to civil rights leader Medgar Evers, along with many others.”

For example, in 2009 Alabama replaced Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, a congressman and Confederate officer, with Helen Keller. Any changes must be approved by the legislature, governor and a Congressional committee. The law requires persons selected for statues to be “illustrious for historic renown for distinguished civic or military service.”