The university's evolution from war to reconciliation in a span of 50 years is a human triumph. This is not to say that it has become a racial and social utopia; that was never anyone's goal, anyway. Nevertheless, Ole Miss is a modern-day history lesson in what is possible.
- Kitty Dumas, New York Times, October 1, 2012
Supported by the Kennedy administration and enforced by the U.S. National Guard, James Meredith became the first black student at Ole Miss on this date in 1962. This opening of a closed society was itself symbolic of the various changes which were going on throughout the United States during the Civil Rights Era, so much so in fact that Meredith's enrollment led to a period of deadly violence for which our campus and community remain notorious.
Deserved or not, it is for this violence, as well as the insistence of political opportunists of all stripes to use Ole Miss and Meredith's integration as a launchpad for their activism, that we remain the standard by which much of the nation continues to assess its civil rights legacy.
For those wishing to profit off of or pander to issues of race and race relations, or, more innocuously, view their own histories as less tumultuous, Ole Miss has become a whipping boy of sorts due to the actions of 50 years ago. For those wishing to capitalize off of feelings of uncertainty and distrust, or those who wrestle with the difficulties of a historical legacy, Ole Miss has become a poster child of those who are perceived as exploited by history, public perception, and executive power.
But I, like Dumas above, do not make any attempts to view Ole Miss as some sort of utopia or as some sort of progressive measuring stick. Ole Miss is, to me, my alma mater. That's it and that's all, but there is something special in that simplicity. Ole Miss is a place where I spent four incredible years meeting wonderfully bright and ambitious people, learning from accomplished and enlightening faculty, watching bad football (Ed Orgeron, anyone?), and learning that I, as a Mississippian, have a lot to be proud of in Ole Miss and Oxford. I am proud of where we are, I am proud of how far we have come, and I am proud to know that we are ambitious enough to see where it is we are going.
Considering that, was that not entirely the point of Ole Miss' integration? The fact that I, as a person born in the 1980's, can view Ole Miss as a university whose essence and ethic differs not from its peers is, itself, a sign of significant success from the Civil Rights era. The idea was never to make Ole Miss the exception; the idea was to make Ole Miss the rule or, better yet, a part of the much larger norm.
I am proud of Mississippi, and I am proud of Mississippians and Ole Miss Rebels like James Meredith, whose idealism and courage in times too difficult for me to understand can both inspire and motivate us to better and better things. Ultimately, it is his courage and determination that this golden anniversary of Ole Miss' integration are celebrating.
The typical Monday morning posts of a game week well be put on a short hiatus for the time being. Instead, let's use today to reflect on where we were, where we are, and where we're going. Let's also use this moment to celebrate the accomplishments of James Meredith and the role he and many other Ole Miss alumni have played in the fight for civil rights.