COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — Prep work is being done in a Mississippi cemetery for a Confederate monument that will be moved away from a county courthouse.
Excavation started this month near the graves of unidentified Confederate soldiers in Friendship Cemetery in Columbus, the Commercial Dispatch reported. A representative from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History was on hand to examine materials found at the site.
“We didn’t know what was down there, and the last thing we wanted to find was the body of someone whose grave wasn’t marked," said Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Trip Hairston.
He said a section of iron fencing, some dishes and a portion of water pipe were found, but none had historical significance.
Supervisors voted last summer to move the monument away from the Lowndes County Courthouse after picketers said it glorified slavery. The vote happened as protests against racial injustice were happening across the U.S. after the killing of a Black man in Minneapolis police custody.
In November, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History approved the plan to move the 32-foot (9.75-meter) monument.
Workers at the cemetery site have built a rectangular wooden frame with steel bar reinforcements. A concrete slab will form a base for the monument.
“It takes weeks and weeks for the concrete to cure," county engineer Bob Calvert said. "After that, another concrete base will be poured to prepare the site for the monument to be placed on.”
The monument will be moved in three phases. The county awarded Danny’s Custom Backhoe a contract for $31,886 for phase one work that is underway. Columbus Marble Works, which installed the monument at its original site 109 years ago, will be responsible for phase two, which involves disassembling the monument, at a cost of $47,815.
Phase three, which includes reassembling the monument at its new site, has not yet been put out for bids. Hairston said it will be at least “several weeks” before disassembly of the monument will begin.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says about 780 Confederate monuments and statues stand on public property in the United States, and at least 50 are in Mississippi. Many of the monuments were put up in the early 20th Century, as groups such as United Daughters of the Confederacy pushed a “Lost Cause” narrative that minimized slavery as a central cause of the Civil War.