Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hard To Miss The Ghosts Of Ole Miss

From today's Times and News-Star
I love Mississippi. I love Willie Morris and magnolias and the Neshoba County Fair. I love Oxford most of all, and am lucky enough to have spent a few days there I will never forget.

And maybe that’s the problem, for lack of a better word, with Mississippi. It’s hard to forget for all the right reasons, harder to forget for all the wrong ones. Mississippi just can’t get much of a break in history.

ESPN’s most recent “30 for 30” offering, “The Ghosts of Ole Miss,” explores the University of Mississippi campus in the fall of 1962, when the football team went undefeated despite campus violence over integration and the enrollment of James Meredith. It’s not entertaining television, but it is compelling. Old footage, football and racism never fail to draw a crowd.

The ghosts keep hanging around.

“I really don’t mind paying for my mistakes,” said one of my best friends, born and raised in Mississippi, “but it sucks when I have to pay for the foul ups for people who, for the most part, are dead and gone. At some point, I guess everyone from the South has to yell ‘Uncle’ in unison, just to see if the rest of the country will let us get up.”

The hour-long piece is online for viewing. You likely will learn little new, other than the football team was undefeated that fall, and Coach Johnny Vaught told his players, “The whole country has seen the worst of our state. You 46 guys can show them the best.”

And the Rebels did.

But the piece focused less on the team and more on the situation on campus and in the state, something that’s been done in no small part before. Still, the only real inaccuracy I know of concerns John Hawkins, who was elected as the school’s first black cheerleader, in the 1980s. He did not say, “I shall not carry the Rebel flag,” as the show suggested, but rather quietly declined. According to my Mississippi friend, an Ole Miss student then, the uproar came only after Hawkins was pressed about it.

If you are from Mississippi, you will have watched a different show than I did. Either way, it’s worth thinking about, maybe worth saying a prayer for Mississippi for. Here’s how my Ole Miss friend put it – and this is only after I asked him to watch it; since he’s been down this historical road so often, he knew what to expect, and would have preferred to pass:

“I suppose my real feeling about the program is one of regret -- regret all that stuff happened, regret the responses, regret the attention and regret that nothing seems to be able to wash off the stench. All these many years later, Mississippi remains as a state suffering as the vanquished. For that matter, Mississippi is not alone. Only Southern states are required to submit redistricting plans to the Justice Department. There obviously was a time and place for such actions, but what has to occur for that burden to be lifted?

“The South in general and Mississippi in particular remains the convenient whipping boy for the nation as a whole. I suppose the program was about what I had expected -- a few people trying to promote themselves and a few more making money at the expense of people who weren't part of the problem. We're just the ones who have to deal with the carnage after the fact. They say time heals all wounds. Well, we're waiting.”