It’s been a week since the news first broke and it remains incomprehensible to me how anyone could be so motivated, whether by hate or stupidity, if there’s a difference, to throw a noose and an “old style Georgia state flag, that includes the Confederate banner,” around the neck of the statue of James Meredith – the first African-American student to attend Ole Miss.
I was in Atlanta last weekend with my wife Lisa, celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary, when I saw the story make it to the front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) due to the three suspects identified being freshmen from Georgia.
I found the news incredibly sad knowing the painful lengths the university has undertaken over the past two decades to distance itself from all types of racism and promote a more culturally sensitive image and inclusive attitude.
Robert Khayat, one of the best university presidents in my lifetime at any school, took on all beholders to the past when he made the controversial moves of eliminating the Confederate flag as a school symbol and ridding the university of Colonel Reb – a beloved mascot to many.
Khayat wasn’t trying to squash Ole Miss traditions, but rather bring the university into the 21st century where no school would desire its image be tied to a caricature of a white-bearded Southern plantation owner.
Khayat’s successor, Dan Jones, continued the effort when he prohibited the school’s marching band, The Pride of the South, from playing “From Dixie With Love” at athletic events due to the fans’, mostly the student section, insistence on shouting “The South will rise again” during a portion of the song.
I’m not an Ole Miss alum or fan, but the move disappointed me at the time because I loved that moment during the football pregame. However, I understood what the university aimed to accomplish by getting rid of it and the point of the fans’ chant was always lost on me.
The ignorance displayed by the recent desecration of Meredith’s statue not only evokes another black eye for Ole Miss, but Mississippi as a whole. It also suggests that despite tremendous progress, the battle against racism is far from over.
The article in the AJC made mention of other recent controversies on the Ole Miss campus including November of 2012 when “an unruly crowd of 400 gathered at the student union in a protest of President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Some students yelled racial slurs and profanity, videos of which spread across the Internet and provoked an apology from the university.”
Incidents of this nature are not limited to Ole Miss, but due to this state’s racial history, they draw more attention than most. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite the disappointment of such ignorance on display in our beloved state, the only road to progress involves shining a light on such instances.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Email Joel McNeece at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter @joelmcneece