Ole Miss exhibition focuses on civil rights history

Published 5:04 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A new exhibition at the University of Mississippi focuses on the state’s turbulent civil-rights history.

The free, public display, “Mississippi: Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs,” is being shown through December on the third floor of the John D. Williams Library.

The photographs, letters, pamphlets, sound discs, sheet music and other artifacts depict highlights of the state’s civil rights history, from the late 19th century to the present. It is part of the university’s slate of events celebrating diversity in higher education, which culminates this coming Sunday with the dedication of the Civil Rights Monument.

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“Our archivists have created a wonderful visual history that reflects the courage and perseverance of many in the struggle to secure equal opportunity for everyone,” said Gloria Kellum, vice chancellor for university relations. “We hope that this exhibit will be an inspiration for all, as we mark more than four decades of progress in higher education and look to the future.”

Jennifer Ford, director of archives and special collections, said that after her staff decided on the exhibit title, she came across two short lines of a song written by protest singer Phil Ochs: “Someone’s got to go to Mississippi just as sure as there’s a right and there’s a wrong. Even though you say the time will change, that time is just too long.”

“Phil Ochs effectively described the situation in 1960s Mississippi,” Ford said. “There was a right and there was a wrong. These were easy concepts to understand, but they were difficult ones to live by at that time.”

The “civil wrongs” sections of the exhibit include poignant images from the Jim Crow period that reveal inadequacies of “separate but equal” education, racial stereotypes featured in minstrel music and Ku Klux Klan activities.

The “civil rights” aspect includes items relating to the power of music in creating common bonds within the movement and objects from UM’s commemorations of its integration showing strides the institution has made to embrace all students.

The exhibition also focuses on James Meredith, the first black student to enroll at the university, in 1962. Meredith’s other civil rights efforts include leading the 1966 “March Against Fear” and the 1996 “Black Man’s March to the Library.”