OPINION: MSU-JSU game was a racial barrier-breaking event

What happened on Scott Field at Mississippi State University last Saturday has already been reported on the sports pages. MSU won a football game it was supposed to win and Jackson State University got a significant payday of $315,000 for playing the game.
But what happened inside and outside Davis-Wade Stadium before and after the game has received less coverage. Pity. From my vantage point, that’s where the real story was.
What I saw in and around the stadium – from the tailgating areas to the upper deck seats to the sidelines and even up to the skyboxes – were MSU and JSU fans talking to each other.
I saw JSU president emeritus John A. Peoples Jr. – the distinguished former U.S Marine Corps drill instructor who led JSU from 1967 to 1984 – honored pre-game on the 50-yard line along with current JSU President Ron Mason, MSU president Mark Keenum and other dignitaries.
It’s doubtful that the historic first meeting of the Southeastern Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference football teams had more significance for anyone in the stadium Saturday than it did for Peoples.
Peoples, who held JSU and Mississippi together during the tense standoff between local and state law enforcement officials and student civil rights protesters in 1970, is a Starkville native who graduated at the top of his class from the segregated Oktibbeha County Training School (later consolidated into Starkville High School).
But even watching Peoples – who spent the better part of his life struggling through segregated secondary schools, a segregated Marine Corps in the 1940s and the crucible of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and early 1970s in Mississippi – take a well-deserved bow in front of an integrated football stadium in 2009 paled in comparison to the average interaction of the fans.
In Starkville, the only tensions in the day were whether JSU might pull the upset and the noticeable traffic congestion.
Beyond that, it was like most other game day scenes across Mississippi’s rich football landscape.
The only difference was that for a non-SEC game, the stadium was full and the game was interesting. Even the half-time show was a sellout.
MSU’s crowd anticipated the appearance of JSU’s “Sonic Boom” and gave them as close to a standing ovation as a marching band gets.
Despite underdog status, JSU’s players fought hard and their fans supported them to the bitter end of what became a long game for the Tigers.
The MSU-JSU game was a good event for both schools and for the state of Mississippi. It kept Mississippi money in Mississippi.
It brought people together. And it made the argument that more games like this should be scheduled in the future. On the same day, the University of Southern Mississippi was playing Alcorn State with equal success.
I rather doubt that Ole Miss will be far behind in scheduling an in-state SWAC school in the future.
One consequence of the MSU-JSU game is clear. Increasingly, JSU fans will make the case for an on-campus stadium of their own and the opportunity to use private dollars to expand a state-built stadium base as has been done at the “Big Three” (MSU, Ole Miss and USM). Why shouldn’t they have that opportunity?
Kudos to MSU and JSU officials for the foresight and vision to shine the spotlight on John Peoples on a special day in the city and state of his birth.

Contact columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.

Sid Salter

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