Southern Perspective: Ole Miss – From the Civil War to Civil Rights

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Published on: June 29, 2015

Todd Starnes of Fox News reported last week that a cultural cleansing of the Southern states is well underway following the decision by South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol.

Lawmakers in other states are calling for the removal of their state flags, as well as renaming parks, streets, and schools named for Confederate heroes. In Washington, D.C. there is also discussion about removing Confederate statues from the U. S. Capitol. Not even the classic movie “Gone with the Wind” has escaped scrutiny as film critic for the New York Post, Lou Lumenick, wants it banished saying:

“The more subtle racism of ‘Gone with the Wind’ is in some ways more insidious, going to great lengths to enshrine the myth that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery an institution the film unabashedly romanticizes,” he wrote.

Lumenick, a northerner, called for the beloved film to be stuffed in a museum “where this much-loved, but undeniably racist, artifact really belongs.”

As a daughter of the South, this strikes at the heart of my southern sensibilities. I’m proud of my heritage and will not dishonor my forefathers who fought all across the South during the Civil War from the Siege of Vicksburg to the Battle of Atlanta. I am deeply troubled by what’s happening to our history, not just that of South, but we’re losing a very important part of the American Story.

“Southern” has become synonymous with racist and bigoted, but from my personal experience nothing could be further from the truth. As a native of Oxford, Mississippi, I can tell you that you will not find a friendlier place on God’s green earth or, for that matter, a more beautiful community.

The locals don’t view themselves as black or white, but native sons sharing a home to the University of Mississippi, also known as Ole Miss. As the saying goes, time heals all wounds, and it certainly applies to the University because nobody knows the history of race in America like Ole Miss.

Ole Miss, where even the name itself has been under fire decades before political correctness became en vogue. A place well known for rich southern tradition, Oxford and the university are at the same time much loved and greatly misunderstood.

Like all good stories, we must start at the beginning or close to it, anyway. Ole Miss has a special place in history, and more specifically, Civil War history and it’s probably a story you’ve never heard.

The 11th Mississippi, Company A, became known as the University Greys during the Civil War because of their gray uniforms and because they were almost entirely students of the University of Mississippi. Nearly all of the student body, 135 men, enlisted in the war; the following year only four returned to classes in the fall of 1861, which forced the University to close temporarily because of attendance.

The University Greys were engaged in the battle of Gettysburg at Pickett’s Charge, sustaining 100% casualties—every last soldier of the 11th Mississippi was either killed or wounded. To think these brave men died to enslave their black brethren is pure fabrication. The South went to war because of the ever-growing abuse of the federal government. Slavery was a side issue and most Southerners were moving in the direction of abolishing the institution as it were, but of course, revisionists tell another story.

Fast forward to October 1st, 1962, American Civils Rights leader James Meredith was the first African-American student admitted to attend the University of Mississippi. The South up until this time was still largely segregated. Blacks and whites went to separate colleges and universities.

The black institutions of higher learning in the State of Mississippi were Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State, Rust and Tougaloo College along with a few others. Mississippi State, Ole Miss and the University of Southern Mississippi did not allow admittance of black students until the intervention of the federal government by then President John F. Kennedy.

In 1961, Meredith applied to the University of Mississippi, wanting to attend the state-funded university. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1954 – Brown v. Board of Education, the segregation of schools in the South were still divided along racial lines.

On his application to the University James Meredith wrote a note saying:

Nobody handpicked me…I believed, and believe now, that I have a Divine Responsibility…I am familiar with the probable difficulties involved in such a move as I am undertaking and I am fully prepared to pursue it all the way to a degree from the University of Mississippi.

He had been denied admission twice, but with the help of Medgar Evers, who was the head of the state chapter of the NAACP, a law suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, alleging the University rejected him because of race.

After numerous hearings by the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit, a decision was made that James Meredith had the right to attend Ole Miss. Democratic Governor, Ross Barnett, attempted to bar his admission saying, “No school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your Governor.”

U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Governor Barnett through a series of phone conversations reached an agreement. Meredith would enroll at the University and the Governor would maintain civil order. 500 U.S. marshals were ordered to accompany Meredith during his registration.

On the evening of September 29th, 1962, rioting broke out on campus between students, protestors and federal and state police forces, leaving two dead and over 300 injured.

As history would have it, two days later James Meredith accompanied by federal marshals became the first black student to attend Ole Miss. He graduated a year later having previously attended what was then known as Jackson State College.

The South. The Civil War. James Meredith. This is the story of Ole Miss.

A story of defeat, and victory; of shame and honor; of division and reconciliation, and through it all we understand a little more about who we are as people. Not just those who have a connection to the University, nor those blessed by God enough to be born and raised in the South, but these are American stories.

Ole Miss, known as a bastion of the Old South must pay a price for its sins, perceived or otherwise. America could learn a lot from what has happened here. Thus far we’ve lost our school flag, our school mascot and I’m sure it won’t be long before we lose our fight song too. Never mind that Dixieland was a song that was played by both the North and the South during the war. The newly appointed keepers of history will agree that it must go as well, and with it we lose another piece of ourselves.

History should be studied, not presided over as judge and juror. To live in this new America we must deny reality, deny truth, deny ourselves. Somehow, I think our Confederate heroes would not be a bit surprised by what’s happening in America today. It’s why they went to war in the first place. It’s not about race, color or creed, but about federal control.

The culture war is really just a continuation of the Civil War and I will submit to you that it was not a battle lost, but one we’re still losing, and maybe that’s precisely the point. Good or bad. Right or wrong. History must be kept… Lest we forget.

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