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The Conservative Curmudgeon
October 30, 2012

The 50th Anniversary of the Integrating of Ole Miss:
A Landmark Toward Improved Race Relations

by Allan C. Brownfeld

Old Miss- Meredith

James Meredith made history when he enrolled at Ole Miss in 1962.
He was the first black to attend the university.

ALEXANDRIA, VA — On the night of September 30, 1962, hundreds of federal marshals and thousands of Army and National Guard troops confronted a violent mob of segregationists on the campus of the University of Mississippi — Ole Miss. Two people were killed and hundreds were wounded. The next morning, James Meredith enrolled in classes and Ole Miss was integrated.

In September 2012, that anniversary was celebrated with a program called “Opening the Closed Society.” The program's name is a reference to the book, Mississippi: The Closed Society, written in 1964 by James W. Silver, an Ole Miss history professor. Professor Silver, who died in 1988, was hounded by white supremacists and left the university a year after the book was published.

Today, the president of the student body is a black woman and so is the homecoming queen. Writing in The New York Times, Kitty Dumas, a writer and communications consultant who is completing a memoir, reflected on her arrival as a student in 1982:

“The university was for so long synonymous with violence and racial hatred, and I, an African-American woman and a native Mississippian, am linked as is everything else here by the past, which regularly rises to meet us. I am who I am because 50 years ago... James H. Meredith braved a deadly riot of angry whites, described by historians as the last battle of the Civil War. The university’s revolution from war to reconciliation in a span of 50 years is a human triumph. This is not to say that it has become a racial and social utopia; that was never anyone’s goal, anyway. Nevertheless, Ole Miss is a modern-day history lesson in what is possible.”

Dumas recalls, “Last year, on a different trip to Ole Miss, I was asked to share my memories in a videotaped interview. After the interview, a young white man, the student who had been behind the camera, approached me with an outstretched hand. ‘I just want to thank you for what you did for us,’ he said.... I was gratified by his realization that the changes had been for him, too.... At 50, I am part of a generation of African-Americans who were not Medgar Evers, James Meredith, Martin Luther King, Jr., or countless others....We did not take the beatings, feel the sting of hoses, endure a thousand and one indignities....We are old enough to have attended segregated schools by law, to have felt the tug of fear and angst before we could explain it. Yet we are young enough to have college educations we needed only to apply ourselves to achieve, to own iPhones on which we can read news of a president who looks like us. We have a front-row seat at American history, with a debt we can never repay no matter our achievements. We are like refugees not from another country, but from another time, carrying memories that propel us forward.”

Mitt Romney

To show how race relations have changed over the past 50 years, Mitt Romney was rebuked by the media for criticizing policies of Barack Obama.

 

It is unfortunate that, despite dramatic improvements in race relations — including the election of a black president — charges of “racism” seem to proliferate, particularly in our current political campaign.

The culture critic Toure, for example, rebuked Mitt Romney for calling on the president to take his “campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago.” Romney also said, “This is what an angry and desperate president looks like.” This, of course, was typical overheated campaign rhetoric — to be found on all sides. But Toure found a racial subtext: “You notice he said ‘anger’ twice. He’s really trying to use racial coding and access some really deep stereotypes against the angry black man. This is part of the play book against Obama, the ‘otherization’ — ‘he’s not like us.... This is ‘niggerization.’ You are not one of us, you are the scary black man who we’ve been trained to fear.”

On MSNBC, Chris Mathews, interviewing Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus on the party’s criticism of Obama’s welfare policy, declared: “When you start talking about work requirements, you know what game you’re playing, and everybody knows what game you’re playing. It’s a race card.”

If America is a “racist” society, and candidates are appealing to race to gain votes, why do public opinion polls show that the public prefers Obama as a person to Mitt Romney? Washington Post columnist Charles Land notes, “Most whites express admiration for his (Obama's) intellect and character — not what you’d expect racists to say. The Pew Research Center’s January 2012 survey found that large majorities of non-Hispanic whites call Obama a ‘good communicator,’ someone who ‘stands up for his beliefs,’ ‘warm and friendly,’ ‘well informed’....Whites’ views are less favorable now than they were when Obama took office, but they declined at the same rate as everyone else’s.”

Gallup has consistently found that about 20 percent of Americans would not vote for their own party’s presidential candidate if he or she were a Mormon. In contrast, only 5 percent now say they would refuse to vote for an African-American.

It is time to recognize that we have undergone a dramatic change in race relations in recent years. As the demographics of our society changes, our country is no longer divided between white and black. There are increasing numbers of Hispanics, Asians, and others. Our society has shown an ability to make men and women of every background into Americans. In the 19th century, many doubted whether the Irish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants could ever assimilate. Now they are simply referred to as “white.” To belabor any tensions that exist at the present time is to ignore the larger, positive story.

The 50th anniversary of the integration of Ole Miss should provide an opportunity to recognize the dramatic strides we have made. Recently, one-time black radical, the poet LeRoi Jones, who changed his name to Amiri Baraka, recalled: “Newark, pre-1967, is a different place.... I used to get held by the police for going to a poetry reading. The police would take the script out of my hand. That’s like living under some kind of fascism. This is another era. My son is a councilman in the South Ward. In a sense, that’s what we always wanted, that he’d go away to school and not disappear into the suburbs with some degree. His brother is his chief of staff. His other brother is his chief of security.”

If Amiri Baraka can recognize the progress we have made, there is no reason the rest of us cannot as well.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2012 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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