The University of the South in Sewanee is relocating a 77-year-old memorial to a Confederate general, after determining there was little reason for the stone marker to stand at an intersection just off the school’s main campus.
The remote liberal arts institution will move markers honoring Edmund Kirby Smith to his grave in the university cemetery on the sprawling, wooded campus. The decision was finalized in September and previously reported by
The Sewanee Mountain Messenger
The Sewanee Purple
, a student newspaper.
Kirby Smith was a Florida native and a West Point graduate who first won distinction in the Mexican-American War. He resigned his Army commission at the outbreak of the Civil War and eventually led Confederate forces west of the Mississippi River.
After the war, he became a biology professor at Sewanee, where he lived until his death in 1893. More than 30 years later, the
United Daughters of the Confederacy asked for permission to honor Kirby Smith and in 1940 a pillar was finally erected at the intersection of Texas and University avenues, near the Sewanee football stadium.
The memorial includes a bas relief portrait and a plaque describing Kirby Smith’s achievements. But there’s no mention of his academic record, says university president John McCardell. Instead, the memorial focuses solely on Kirby Smith’s war record.
“I think it’s appropriate that he be commemorated. But if he is to be commemorated as a Confederate, that really has little to do with the university,” McCardell tells WPLN.
The move comes as Sewanee has been reviewing its history on racial matters. Although the University of the South was formed around the time of the Civil War, the school has been part of a group of universities that have been
confronting their ties to slavery. Sewanee has also formed a working group on slavery, race and reconciliation.
But McCardell says no one associated with the school suggested moving Kirby Smith’s memorial. Rather, a descendant, Tom Kirby-Smith, asked for the relocation.
In a letter to the school, the general’s great-grandson cited the unrest earlier this summer around another Confederate memorial in Charlottesville, Va., as the impetus for the move.