OUR OPINION: UM’s struggles with race are Mississippi’s

The University of Mississippi’s long-standing struggles with racial issues have hardly occurred in isolation. In a very real sense, its trials and transformations have been those of the entire state.

It was not the university in isolation that insisted on fighting the admission of James Meredith as the first black student at any historically white educational institution in the state in 1962. That futile battle was fought at the insistence of and with the full force of the white political establishment behind it. Ole Miss was merely the highly symbolic battleground.

Similarly, Ole Miss’ recognition that the school’s long association with symbols of the Old South, coupled with the official resistance and violent rebellion surrounding Meredith’s admission, was a hindrance to its future viability as a nationally recognized institution of higher learning. And it has has mirrored the wider Mississippi struggle to overcome a negative image shaped by a violent racist past.

The university still stands in for the state as a whole as it continues to struggle with issues of race and inclusiveness. Any Mississippian, whether associated with Ole Miss or not, can respect and appreciate the university’s willingness to deal openly and honestly with very difficult, sensitive and emotional issues.

The most recent round of discussions in this vein were prompted by an incident in which the statue of Meredith on campus – itself a symbol of the university’s coming to terms with its past – was desecrated by a couple of students. Chancellor Dan Jones on Friday released a plan that outlines steps the university will take to create “a more inclusive and welcoming environment.” Specific actions will include creation of a vice chancellor-level position to promote diversity and inclusion, as well as an assortment of steps designed to balance the remaining names and symbols of a racially unjust past with greater historical context and with an increase in those of a new and more open era.

The name Ole Miss isn’t going away. But even to have a discussion of its appropriate contextual usage, given the term’s origins in the context of slavery, took unusual fortitude by those involved. University leaders came to the right conclusion: Ole Miss is a term of affection that in its contemporary context doesn’t have a negative connotation, and is too much a part of the university’s identity to cast aside.

No doubt there are alumni, students and others who think the emphasis on these issues is unnecessary or overwrought. But what better place than the state’s oldest institution of higher learning to wrestle with the oldest dilemma facing Mississippi and Mississippians: Coming to terms with our state’s racial past, and charting the best course for a future freed from a preoccupation with it.

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  • James O Coley

    Don’t you think it is about time you liberal journalist start using your common sense and quit beating a dead horse to death. You must think because you write an article about race that you are special. Well what you are doing trying to stir up trouble. Mister anything you write about condemns innocent Mississippians for the last one hundred years. Well sir I had nothing to do with what happened at Ole Miss with James Merdith and the Gov. and I remember it well.

    • TWBDB

      Mr Coley, this article doesn’t condemn ‘All Mississippians’ and this horse is not dead.

      “All Mississippians” would include those who stood up to racism in the 60’s and those who continue to do so today. It would include those who sit quietly by as racism rages before their eyes and it would include actual racists. Not ‘All’ are guilty. Common sense.

      A conversation, or an article, about racial struggles, racial tension in Mississippi doesn’t have to stir up trouble. In fact, put forth in the correct tone, it actually helps to heal far more than silence or hushed tones on the matter ever will.

      Mississippi has a horrible past, which left us with a stigma. Too often, if we’re white from Mississippi it doesn’t matter if we did, or if we would, march with Dr King or the KKK. It certainly doesn’t matter if we personally had nothing to do with it, our silence is enough.

      We cant’ erase the past and we shouldn’t try. What we can do is the next right thing, show the next person that we’re way different today.

      • James O Coley

        Well TWBDB , I learned a long time ago it is a waste of time trying to discuss an opinion, as everyone has one. Why are you so fixated on the 60,s Integration became Law, and that was a good thing, but things have not gotten better in America, only worse. Are you saying that the right thing to do is for Mississippians to forget our heritage, whether good or bad. Frankly I don’t care what Ole Miss does, they can call themselves anything, but you and your ilk stop running down Mississippi.

        • FrereJocques

          I would beg to differ. Things in America have gotten a LOT better since the ’60’s. Mississippians do not need to forget their heritage, be it good OR bad. Official racial discrimination is dead, unofficial racial discrimination is on its way out. Many civil rights are recognized today that were barely even dreamed of in days gone by.

          Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

          • James O Coley

            FrereJocques, My apology, you are exactly right in your post, I just get so tired of all this crap about Mississippi and how bad it is or was. Mississippi is a great state and I am proud to be a native son.

          • TWBDB

            Mr Coley, I’m glad to see you understand and agree. I’m sorry you felt I was running down Mississippi; that wasn’t my intention. I’m a native son too.

            I’d love to discuss what people think about the term Southern Heritage, specifically Mississippi Heritage. For me, it’s the music. Delta Blues, the Bluegrass tones from the makeshift string band of neighbors on our rock road growing up, Gospel and Spirituals spilling out of a hot crowded church at an all day singing with dinner on the ground, Southern Rock blaring on the loud speaker at the local lake side beach, all great things

          • James O Coley

            You are right. Out

  • Mikoma

    Thanks for an excellent editorial. I am so proud of the leadership at Ole Miss for the outstanding job they are doing in all phases of the University.

  • Larry

    You can’t legislate bigotry, ignorance or love. Look at the reflective comments.