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Posted June 27, 2012

Travelers, to Jay Thomas Willis Columns

Thoughts on James Meredith’s Integration of 'Ole Miss'

By Jay Thomas Willis

The fall of September 2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of James Meredith’s integration of the University of Mississippi. Lots of things have changed in schools across the country since that time; yet, much remains the same.

            James Meredith integrated “Ole Miss” in the fall of 1962. It was during the time when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing; a period of much turbulence and change. The period was riddled with much success and much disappointment.

            During this period the college town of Oxford, Mississippi, erupted in violence. James Meredith, an African American was attempting to register at the all-white University of Mississippi. The federal government supported Meredith, and insisted that the rights of all citizens, regardless of race, should be upheld. John F. Kennedy was president at the time. He and Robert Kennedy were in Meredith’s corner. The University Board of Trustee, and many of Mississippi’s leading citizens felt States Rights, and the rights of the people were enough to prevent him from being admitted.

            At the heart of the controversy was the idea that the federal government had no business to attempt to force the people of the State of Mississippi to assimilate with anyone they didn’t desire. This seemed to be the basis of Governor Ross Burnett’s philosophy. He was vehemently opposed to his admission.

Meredith was a man of humble background. He was the seventh child out of thirteen children. He walked four miles to school and back for eleven years while the white school bus passed him on the road. He went to Florida and finished his senior year. While in Mississippi he never had a teacher that had a college degree. He spent nine years in the military. Took some college courses in the military and attended Jackson State University upon leaving the military. Achieved good grades and had an excellent record: he made only one “C” out of many college courses prior to the University of Mississippi.

            When the University of Mississippi refused admission of Meredith it led to a showdown between state and federal authorities, and the storming of the campus by a segregationist mob. Two people died and dozens were injured. In the end Meredith was admitted; and “Ole Miss,” the State of Mississippi, and the entire country was forever changed to some degree.

            It seems the powers-that-be wanted us to go to inferior schools so they could label us with a badge of lifetime inferiority. Too attend a major white university was to break down this inferior label. They deliberately sent us to inferior schools, gave us inferior books and materials, discouraged us from even attending school by making us walk, kept us working the farm; yet, we still rise. By doing this they could justify not giving us jobs, continuing to limit us educationally, and forever label us as inferior.

            I didn’t experience many of the problems James Meredith experienced at the University of Mississippi as I sought admission to a Texas University in 1966, probably because he had paved the way. Sometimes I do wonder if it was worth it, since I felt uncomfortable most of the time. My education hadn’t prepared me for a middle-class white university. I experienced similar kinds of segregation that Meredith encountered after being admitted, such as segregation of campus life: segregated fraternities and social clubs, and virtual exclusion from many campus activities. I did receive my degree in three and a half years, with an overall “B” average.

            My feelings are that much of such segregation patterns in campus life have changed, while some have not. I haven’t actually studied the segregation patterns of any universities recently, but being on several campuses a short while gives me the general idea. Such segregation patterns still leave one with feelings of inherent inferiority.

Sooner or later the powers-that-be will realize that segregation is one of the main things that make this country a second rate nation by today’s standards. By maintaining segregation, along with the conditioning from slavery being constantly reinvented, prevents Blacks from getting a better education and improving themselves, while helping to deteriorate the state of the nation. This leads to stagnation and underdevelopment of a large percentage of the population. Segregation, discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice are expensive to the nation in this regard.

Had Blacks been allowed to develop socially, educationally, politically, and economically to their fullest capability; we wouldn’t have some of the problems as a nation that we are facing today. We wouldn’t have to worry about China, Japan, or other countries getting ahead of us. This nation has spent so much time, energy, and resources to maintain segregation that it has cripple the nation.

            The basis reason why China and Japan are able to advance themselves in so many ways is because they don’t squander the potential of a large percentage of their population. They don’t have distinct populations to segregate, and use their best minds to their fullest developmental capabilities.

            Our fight for civil rights is not over. We must agitate and mobilize for better educational, social, political, and economic opportunities. In doing this we know it will be a better nation. We must remove every thread of institutional and individual racism from the fabric of this country. If we don’t all sides will feel the effects, and we will eventually regret it. All our well being depends on every other being. Your neighbor, the person down the street, the person across town, the person you meet walking down the street, are all dependent on each other for their mutual survival and development.

            Civilized nations cannot survive, maintain an edge, or prosper for long, unless they learn to respect all men as equal brothers who are not heavy.

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The above is on the Black Paper lane on the Black Information Highway and The Mid-South Tribune ONLINE. Mr. Willis is the author of twenty-three books, fifteen professional journal articles, a number of magazine articles, and over 300 newspaper articles. His books can be reviewed at www.jaythomaswillis.com .  Email him at jaytwillis@gmail.com  or MSTnews@prodigy.net or BlackInfoHwy@prodigy.net . Welcome, Travelers!

 

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