The incident this week on the University of Mississippi campus was unsettling but not for the obvious reasons.
In case you haven’t heard by now, early Sunday morning someone tied a noose around the neck of the James Meredith statue in front of the Lyceum on campus. Meredith, of course, was the first black student to enroll at Ole Miss, an event that led to riots and two deaths as white protesters opposed his admission. In addition to the noose, whoever committed the defacing also draped an old Georgia state flag similar to the Confederate flag over the statue.
The university is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. At least two young men, likely students, are believed to have been involved, based on an eyewitness account. According to that eyewitness, the perpetrators also shouted racial slurs as they performed the deed.
Now it would be easy to chalk the incident up to just another frat boy prank or initiation or a couple of drunks who were still partying at 6:30 on a Sunday morning, not that that explains or justifies the action. Being young and stupid is no excuse. In fact, if it turns out the two young men were Ole Miss students, that makes the incident even more disturbing, the fact that they were kids and chose Ole Miss as a place to spend their college years.
We like to think we’ve come a long way since those days when Meredith broke the color barrier at Ole Miss and perhaps we have, at least some of us, as this incident surprisingly revealed.
According to the student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, the eyewitness to the defacing was a white man who called campus police to report it. Mark McMillan, according to the DM, was a contractor arriving early for work Sunday morning when he saw the incident taking place and phoned police.
“I’m a 64-year-old white man that grew up in rural, backwoods Mississippi,” McMillan told the DM. “I’ve always been a little prejudiced at times, but this changed my life. I’ll never be the same person I was, and something came over me. It’s hard to talk about my feelings but I feel like a completely different person.”
So while the incident itself is disgusting, the fact that it was done by two young people is both saddening and pathetic. That’s because those two young men involved had to have learned that racial hatred from someone, most likely their peers and their parents. They weren’t born with it.
So while it’s uplifting and encouraging to hear an older white man from Mississippi sincerely denounce the action, it’s also disturbing to know that a new generation of bigots is still being nurtured out there somewhere and, for some reason, they still view Ole Miss as somehow an affirmation of their beliefs.
We can only hope that same institution expels the hell out of them when they’re caught.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.