By Adriane Arinder, UM freshman
It’s strange to think that I walk across a college campus laden with a history of injustice — I almost forget, with how aggressively progressive it seems sometimes. 60 years ago, James Meredith integrated Ole Miss. His enrollment caused an uproar, but he also effectively set into motion the acceptance of integration in Southern education settings.
The second of Overby Center’s fall programs focused on Meredith’s history with Ole Miss, and the difficult fight for integration at the university. It was titled Meredith & The Media: The Legacy of a Riot and held on Tuesday, September 27, 2022 at 5:30 pm.
This discussion featured journalists like Sidna Brower and Curtis Wilkie, who were studying at Ole Miss at the time of the riot that ensued after James Meredith enrolled at the university. Dr. Kathleen Wickham was also in attendance, and journalist Jesse Holland moderated. Bower and Wilkie were the main contributors of the panel; they spoke of their experience as students at the time of the riot. Wilkie reflected on seeing the Lyceum surrounded “elbow to elbow” with troops, the onslaught of tear gas throughout the evening and night, and the overall panic students and citizens were experiencing — and, in some cases, causing.
Sidna Bower told a story of a man and a young boy who showed up to the journalism school while she was working on one of her editorials on the riot, demanding to know where James Meredith was in order to kill him.
As a current-day Ole Miss student in the School of Journalism, I can’t imagine my reaction to someone speaking that way to me. Blatant, violent racism seems so far removed from the current state of the world, and yet this event was only 60 years ago.
Bower, thankfully, quickly closed the journalism building to the public after that interaction. It’s hard to fully understand how scary that night was for many people — African Americans, Ole Miss students, faculty, and staff, journalists, and US troops alike. Over 30,000 troops were deployed to Oxford, countless people were wounded and tear gassed, and two were killed. Wilkie even remarked that weeks after the riot, tear gas would come out of the ground if it rained. Hearing the stories of people that were there, however, was able to shed light on the event like books can’t.
As I sat in the Overby Center, I came to the stark realization that Sidna Bower and Curtis Wilkie watched the entire riot unfold. There were countless others who did too. They were students, like me, who had an entire education to worry about on top of watching their campus descend into chaos.
The truth is, I don’t know how I’d deal with a life-altering situation like the Ole Miss riot of 1962 today. However, I am grateful to be part of an institution that has taken strides toward a more inclusive environment since then.