The Man Who Desegregated Ole Miss Weighs in on Those Student Protests
Tuesday night after the election results showed that President Barack Obama had won his re-election bid, students at the University of Mississippi decided to get together to hurl racial epithets, throw rocks, and burn an Obama-Biden sign. What happened on the campus is undeniably upsetting but James Meredith, the man who famously desegregated Ole Miss fifty years ago in 1962, says students at the school should keep it all in perspective.
Meredith told local station WJTV that the night before he desegregated the campus, more than name calling went down. There was such a massive riot on campus, two people died. "My fight was not with some poor, misled, white [person]," Meredith said. "My fight was with the leadership of the state of Mississippi and the leadership of the United States of America." Fifty years later, says Meredith, the best thing for students to do is ignore what a comparatively small and ignorant group of students on campus are doing.
We all know that not speaking up against violent behavior that's rooted in any form of prejudice can have dangerous long term consequences, but Meredith is right that Ole Miss has changed since the time he was there. For one, the school's chancellor, Dan Jones soundly condemned what happened. In a statement released Wednesday, Jones wrote, "reports of uncivil language and shouted racial epithets appear to be accurate and are universally condemned by the university, student leaders, and the vast majority of students who are more representative of our university creed." In comparison, 50 years ago the school's administration was wholly in support of racism on campus.
What's even more encouraging is that hundreds of Ole Miss students held a candlelight vigil on Wednesday night in front of the administration building to show that not everyone at the school agrees with the the overtly racist behavior on display the night before. "I think that the quickness of the response and the seriousness of the response are a reflection of how deeply held our values are," said Susan Glisson, the executive director of the campus' William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
The University of Mississippi—like many colleges and universities across the nation—certainly has a long way to go toward creating a completely welcoming environment on campus, but it's heartening to know that some students at a school once reknowned for it's racial hostility are taking a stand.
Photo via Twitter user Emily Gaither