OXFORD, Miss. – Students have been meeting and talking about racism and potential solutions for moving forward following vandalism to a statue of James Meredith on this leafy campus earlier this week. They’ve left flowers, lit candles and held up signs with slogans like “Respect our school!” and “Equality for All!”
On Thursday,according to published reports, three 19-year-old white male freshmen from Georgia were declining through their attorneys to be questioned by university police.
While the investigation continues, the Ole Miss Alumni Assn. offered a $25,000 reward for information about damage to the bronze statue, a symbol of the civil rights icon and his struggle to enroll at the school following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
On Sunday, the university’s police department found a rope tied around the statue’s neck like a noose, along with a flag displaying the Confederate battle symbol draped around the shoulders and the back.
The statue of Meredith symbolizes his integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962, an event that led to campus riots, two deaths and dozens of injuries. Meredith enrolled at the campus with the escort of hundreds of federal authorities, on the orders of President John F. Kennedy.
Meredith, a Jackson resident, told The Los Angeles Times that the incident “clearly shows we’re not training our children like the Bible says. They don’t know right and wrong, good and bad and how to apply it to life.”
Dan Jones, the school’s chancellor, decried the crime. “…our response will be an even greater commitment to promoting the values that are engraved on the statue: Courage, Knowledge, Opportunity, and Perseverance,’’ he said earlier this week.
Jake McGraw, an alumni and editor of the Rethink Mississippi blog for The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi, wrote this week that the incident shows “the work of integration remains unfinished…. Only 50 years after federal marshals were required to escort Meredith around campus, black students and faculty at the University must wonder whether the noose was meant as a warning.’’
The Hechinger Report spoke with students and others on campus to gauge their reaction to the crime. The following are excerpts from the conversations.
Alex Nichols, Mobile, Alabama, Senior:
It’s not only disrespectful to the institution but to all of the students and faculty. It depicts a negative image on the school’s progress. I don’t think it will affect us (the university) very much because we know how to grow and put aside negative actions like these. It’s just ignorance. There’s going to be ignorance everywhere you go. As long as there are people of different races on a campus there is going to be conflict.
Brian Cooper Owens, Professor, African American Studies
On the one hand I think it is very offensive. It is a symbolic lynching, but I wasn’t surprised. This isn’t the first time that this sort of an act has happened on campus. I think there are two main reasons. The first is institutionalized racism. We are under a system of systemic institutionalized racism in this state, on this campus, in this town. And then secondly, not secondly in importance because I think they have equal weight, we have a culture that valorizes these racist depictions of the old Confederate South — once again in the state, in this town, on this campus. So I don’t think it should be a surprise that racist acts occur.
Brittany Gelancy, Hernando, Miss., Senior
I think it definitely portrays us in a negative light nationwide. It makes other universities view us as perhaps racist or ignorant and that doesn’t necessarily reflect the entire student body but it definitely makes us look bad. It was a disgusting act and it reflects us all very poorly. I think part of it is just parents passing down their opinion to their children and the ignorance continuing to be carried on and a lack of education, people not being informed that it’s not right to be ignorant like this and you need to be accepting of all races and cultures.
Alexandria Gamble, Junior, Byram, Miss.
I was shocked. This is my first semester here and I was just shocked on how it’s still here. The racism or hate or whatever. I’ll be here for two years and I hope there’s not any more of these kinds of incidents. I thought when I got here that it was going to be totally different. But what I’ve viewed online and what I’ve heard – you know, Ole Miss is the place to be and there’s so much positivity. But when I get here I’m witnessing so much racism and hatred. I thought people would be friendlier than what I’ve experienced.
Janeé Hodges, Senior, Aberdeen, Miss.
I think it’s ridiculous. This is not the first time we’ve had a racial occurrence like this and it keeps happening. I’m kind of upset. I don’t understand why they can find two guys who robbed somewhere, not even here, but they can’t find the people who ruined something so symbolic. I think it’s ridiculous and something serious should be done about it.