We are on our way to Oxford, Mississippi, and the University of Mississippi.
I was 12 years old when James Meredith was admitted to Ole Miss, and for some reason it was one of the events I remember the most from the 1960s. Maybe because I can remember watching it on TV with my mom and remember her saying over and over, “This is so wrong.”
On October 1, 1962, Meredith became the first black student at the University of Mississippi after being barred from entering in the fall of 1961. His enrollment, firmly opposed by segregationist Governor Ross Barnett, sparked riots on the Oxford campus and required enforcement by U.S. Marshals and later by U.S. Army military police, the Mississippi Army National Guard and the U.S. Border Patrol. (In photo: In the fall of 1961 Meredith was blocked by the Governor of Mississippi from entering this Ole Miss building.)
Today, Ole Miss has over 12,000 undergraduates, with an African-American population of over 15 percent. It is home to the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. The Institute’s mission is to “foster reconciliation and civic renewal wherever people suffer as a result of racial discrimination or alienation, and promote scholarly research, study and teaching on race and the impact of race and racism.”
We hear about the institute’s wonderful work from Executive Director Susan Glisson and visiting professor Rita Bender, who is Michael Schwerner’s widow. Mrs. Bender is there with her husband to teach a class on the true horrors and suffering African-Americans endured under segregation.
So have things really changed at Ole Miss? It looked and sounded like it. And a lot of the credit from Ms. Glisson went to SMU’s own Dr. R. Gerald Turner, who was Chancellor of Ole Miss from 1984 to 1995.
One example, their mascot. Ole Miss’ sports teams are known as the Ole Miss Rebels. Their mascot was Colonel Reb, who was officially retired from the university in 2003 because of negative connotations with the Old South. The school in 1997 ended the waving of Confederate flags at sporting events. Several possible mascots have been suggested and are currently being voted on by Ole Miss students.
The No. 1 vote getter?
Admiral Ackbar, whose credentials as a rebel include being leader of the Rebel Alliance in the fictional “Star Wars” universe.