By The Enterprise-Journal, McComb, Miss.
McCOMB, Miss. —
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — From Requiem for a Nun, Act I, Scene III, by William Faulkner.
Those words of the Nobel-prize winning author, a statue of whom sits on the Square at Oxford, come to mind amid the observances this fall marking the 50th anniversary of James Meredith’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi, where Faulkner, as a struggling young writer, worked briefly at separate jobs in the university post office and power plant.
Ole Miss has held a series of lectures, art exhibitions, concerts and other events during the past year to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the desegregation of the university.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appeared on the Oxford campus recently to give a speech about civil rights. He said the Department of Justice, which was the driving force 50 years ago in enrolling Meredith at Ole Miss, continues “to strive for equal justice under the law.” Chancellor Dan Jones made an apology for the university’s past actions in civil rights violations. Meredith himself often shows up on campus and was recognized at a recent home football game, where he was shown on the video screen wearing an Ole Miss cap.
No doubt the Ole Miss administration has bent over backward in recent years to shed the racial baggage it carried from the state’s violent resistance to integration in the 1960s, and the effort has largely been successful.
Although progress has been instituted by the administration, a lot of it has come from the students themselves.
Such is the case with the election of Courtney Roxanne Pearson as the university’s first black homecoming queen. Her triumph is the latest high-profile barrier to be crossed at a school that for decades was associated with white privilege and the old South.
In fact, it may be more surprising these days that Pearson was elected as a non-Greek than as an African-American. Sororities are powerful at Ole Miss, and usually the queen comes from among their ranks.
Pearson had to have worked hard to win, despite not having those built-in connections on the Oxford campus. Good for her.
Some think it’s time to quit talking about the past and move on. Others, like Ole Miss history professor Charles Eagles, says the university should reach beyond slogans and teach more about slavery, segregation and other difficult parts of the state’s past.
As Faulkner implied, it’s hard to get past the past.