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J.Z. George’s descendant advocates for removing the statue of the Confederate icon from the nation’s Capitol

The great-great-great grandson of Confederate icon J.Z. George wants to see his ancestor’s statue moved from the U.S. Capitol back to Mississippi.

Each day, hundreds visit the Capitol’s Statuary Hall to glimpse the two statues from each state. Mississippi is the only state represented strictly by Confederate leaders. They are George and Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy.

In recent decades, states such as Alabama and Florida have replaced statues of those who fought in the Civil War or supported secession with notable leaders or trailblazers. States pay for the statues, which represent deceased citizens “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services such as each State may deem to be worthy of this national commemoration.”

Beyond Confederate figures, Ohio replaced a slave-supporting governor with inventor Thomas Edison. California replaced a little-known minister with former President Ronald Reagan. North Carolina replaced a white supremacist politician with evangelist Billy Graham.

Mississippi, however, has stood pat.

It is time that changed, said George’s ancestor, Charles Sims of New Braunfels, Texas, a combat veteran, Ole Miss graduate and founder of The Dream 2020. “Racial hatred or racism shouldn’t be honored.”

He would love to see Medgar Evers, a World War II veteran buried in Arlington National Cemetery, take the place of George, a Civil War veteran, he said. “I’d like to replace a soldier with a soldier.”

Charles Sims tells Mississippi Today’s Jerry Mitchell he would like to see the statue of his great-great-great grandfather J.Z. George replaced.

Medgar Evers fought in Normandy and later became part of the Red Ball Express, a convoy system that used Army trucks to haul food, gasoline, ammunition and other supplies to U.S. forces as they raced across France.

When Evers returned home, he and his brother and other Black soldiers tried to vote, only to be turned away by white men with guns. After that, he began battling in the civil rights movement and became the first field secretary for the Mississippi NAACP.

Sims knows all about fighting. He spent more than eight years in the Army, much of it in combat in Iraq.

Many of those in his lineage, like George, were slave owners. Three of his ancestors signed the Mississippi Articles of Secession, which called for the state to secede from the nation: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.”

Two years after the Civil War ended, Reconstruction began, and so did a reign of terror against Black Mississippians and those who supported them.

George became known as the “Great Redeemer” for his role in returning white supremacy to power after Reconstruction ended. That work culminated in the 1890 Constitution, designed to disenfranchise Black Mississippians through poll taxes and constitutional quizzes.

“There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter,” future Gov, and U.S. Sen. James K. Vardaman declared, “Mississippi’s constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n—– from politics.”

The changes worked. Within a decade, the number of Black registered voters fell from more than 130,000 to less than 1,300. 

Other Southern states followed Mississippi’s lead, barring Black voters in every way they could. Grandfather clauses. White primaries. Violence. Voter intimidation.

“We cannot erase the past, but neither should we be a prisoner of it, either,” Sims said. “J.Z. George was the architect of the Jim Crow laws. I am not proud of this. … I think the statue should be removed from the Capitol because we cannot honor racial hatred.”

He said family members may not agree on whether the statue should be removed from Statuary Hall, but all agree that if that happens, the statue should come home to the Cotesworth Plantation in Mississippi.

Leslie McLemore, who helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, said he would vote for civil rights pioneer Fannie Lou Hamer to take George’s place at Statuary Hall.

After 44 years as a sharecropper, she joined the movement and eventually captivated a nation with her story and her songs, he said. “She inspired a generation of people to get involved in the movement. To honor somebody like that is special.”

Sims said he once heard civil rights pioneer James Meredith, the first known Black American to attend the University of Mississippi, remark, “Mississippi is at the center of the universe, the center of the racial issue, the center of the poverty issue.”

Those words struck a chord with Sims. “I thought, ‘Wow, Mississippi could be the center of something.’”

Despite these days of division, Sims feels the winds of change.

“I feel it is important to change the narrative about Mississippi and show that we have the ability to reach across party and racial lines in search of conflict resolution,” he said. “This is to highlight that we have the power to sit down and talk to people about the things that divide us.”

The past can be overcome, he said, “once people stop shouting at each other and begin listening to each other.”

Some people believe there’s been so much hatred for so long that they can’t reach out to a Black family because “they’re not going to accept my hand in reconciliation,” he said. “Well, that’s how I’ve done it, and I’m not close to done.”

He has met with the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake, all victims of police violence. He also met with the niece of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her bus seat and sparked the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Charles Sims, the great-great-great-grandson of Confederate icon J.Z. George, has met with Rosa Parks’ niece,,Shelia Keys. They are pictured here in frobt of Parks’ statue in the U.S. Capitol.
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Charles Sims, the great-great-great-grandson of Confederate icon J.Z. George, has met with Rosa Parks’ niece,Shelia Keys. They are pictured here in front of Parks’ statue in the U.S. Capitol. Credit: Courtesy of Charles Sims

“It’s been truly amazing,” Sims said. “If I could do this as the great grandson of Jim Crow, what is anybody else’s excuse?”

The truth is that people aren’t willing to do what it takes to move the nation forward, he said. “If we value reconciliation, we have to be willing to put the hard work in to achieve it. If we value the dream, we have to be willing to live it and pray about it fully, not just talk about it fully.”

In his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered to those gathered at the 1963 March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

When Sims heard those words, he said he felt they were aimed at him. “I think Dr. King sent me an invitation through history.”

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