Since mid-October of last year, a committee of faculty, students, and staff have been planning the design of a new monument to replace the former Kirby-Smith sculpture. Located on the statue’s previous spot in front of the Sigma Nu fraternity house, the structure will be unveiled the Sunday following the celebration of Foundation Day on September 23.
According to Laurie Saxton, a member of the committee and Sewanee’s director of news and public relations, the impetus behind this decision was Vice-Chancellor John McCardell.
Providing her own interpretation on the choice to erect a new monument, she commented, “When the Kirby-Smith family asked for the relief to be removed from the plinth last fall, that left a space that seemed geographically––and symbolically too––to be a good place to put something new, something that symbolized the history of the university but also looked forward to the future.”
Jay Fisher (C’79), vice president for university relations and committee chair, added, “Considering the upcoming Sesquicentennial of the University’s opening its doors in 1868, it seemed appropriate to use this highly visible space on University Avenue to recognize this event at this spot.”
Before being taken down at the behest of the family, the Kirby-Smith memorial was the subject of some student controversy last year because of its connections to the racialized history of the Old South. Edmund Kirby-Smith, to whom the monument pays tribute, was a University professor and General in the Confederate States Army during the Civil War.
Reflecting last year’s push for inclusivity, “ELEVATE PEOPLE OF COLOR” and “ELEVATE WOMEN” was written in white chalk on the plinth during the beginning of this school year. The new statue has been a point of curiosity for some students because of the history of its placement.
Senior David “Chief” Johnson (C’18) said, “I’m not yet sure how I feel about the addition of a new monument to replace the Kirby-Smith memorial. I am eager to see what is added; however, I want the community not to forget what once stood there and the controversy that came with it coming down. History should not be deleted. It should be remembered and addressed in terms of the way legacies of the past manifest into the present.”
Presently, the committee has kept the design and appearance of the statue confidential information. Fisher remarked, “The new monument will actually take advantage of the original shape and size of the Kirby-Smith memorial. In doing so, the committee wanted to recall the original monument while making a statement about the evolving history and eternal values of the University.”
Saxton elaborated, “I think just to look at it from a distance, it will not be dramatic. It’s going to be more meaningful when you see it up close, and read the words that are on it.” Although she couldn’t say what the inscription was exactly, she also noted that it would give a summary of the University’s history and its aspirations moving forward.
Ultimately, they hope for the monument to maintain facets of Sewanee’s history while serving as a positive statement for what lies ahead. Fisher concluded, “I believe this monument will serve as a reminder of important dates in the University’s founding, of the courage and vision of those who believed in its mission, as well as the eternal values expressed in the University’s motto from Psalm 133:1, ‘Behold how very good and pleasant it is for kindred to live together in unity.’”