Correl Hoyle sits at the feet of the James Meredith statue for an hour each day. He has done so since the statue was defaced Feb. 16, 2014, one year ago today.
“Fear. Somewhat misunderstanding and a little bit of anger,” Correl Hoyle said as he sat crisscrossed at the bronze feet of the statue of James Meredith on campus at The University of Mississippi. “Sadness, essentially, is what I felt.”
He was describing the range of emotions he experienced on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014 – the day the monument, a physical symbol of unity and courage, was found draped with a rope noose and flag displaying the Confederate stars and bars.
“I feel like if I went to outskirts of the Delta or deep into the brush of Mississippi or Alabama or Arkansas, I would see things that symbolize ‘n-words not welcome’ but not in a place of higher education,” he said. “I feel that wouldn’t be accepted here. It isn’t accepted here.”
The following day, Hoyle made a promise – rain, sleet, snow or hail he would sit for an hour a day beneath the man who paved the way for racial equality at The University Mississippi. He would protect the accomplishments he made. He would shield the ground he broke.
As of today, he will have kept that promise for an entire year. Like the statue, he has remained resolute.
Hoyle, a sixth-year senior psychology major from Walnut, Mississippi, began his academic career at Northeast Mississippi Community College. He transferred to Ole Miss in the fall of 2012.
At five-foot-five, 110 pounds, he has a modest stature; however, the impact he’s made on students, faculty and staff at the university is anything but that. He has become a living landmark.
“You got something special for Valentine’s Day, Correl?” a passerby asked as he walked past Hoyle and the statue Friday.
“Yep, corny as always,” he said as he showed him the poster he was holding.
In theme with holiday of love, Hoyle had written in untidy red ink, “Love those who care about you, those who don’t, and love U!”
“You like how I threw the ‘U’ in there? I ran out of room for ‘yourself,’” Hoyle said with a laugh.
“That’s so avant garde. I don’t know what to do,” the passerby replied.
“It is avant garde,” Hoyle smugly retorted. “It’s so me.”
But the conversations with onlookers aren’t always lighthearted and friendly. The first day he began sitting in front of the statue, the day following the desecration of the statue, Hoyle said many people believed he was “an anarchist.” Instead of kind curiosity, he was met with caution.
He said even now, his actions are viewed with skepticism.
“There was a character who actually stopped me one day and said ‘Hey, you’re the guy from the statue. What’s the point?’ Hoyle said. “He said that I could be doing anything else with my life. I could be studying. I am a student after all. I could be working at a job. This could be putting money in my pocket, this hour.
“I kind of retorted, ‘I choose what to do with my time the same way you do with yours.’”
Two months into his silent sitting, Hoyle said he “almost called it quits.” Negative comments and the monotonous repetition of gawking stares wore him down. He began to feel like he was wasting his time.
“Everyone kind of gave me the hint that, you know, that was weeks ago,” he said. “It doesn’t matter anymore. It’s going to happen again whether you sit out here or not. It doesn’t truly matter.”
In the depths of the pessimism and self-doubt, Hoyle found encouragement.
Shanda Taylor, a graduate student, met Hoyle through a mutual friend after he began sitting at the statue. Since, she has spent many afternoons accompanying him.
“I think it’s really inspiring,” Taylor said. “The signs, the whole idea behind it is really good because the students, the professors, a lot of people have trouble voicing their opinions,” Taylor explained. “To have someone out here that’s willing to do that, I think he deserves a lot of support.”
Support is something Hoyle has certainly received.
On a particularly cold afternoon, students from the Honors College provided with him a blanket and pillow. In the stifling August heat, strangers stopped to give him bottled water. Even Chancellor Dan Jones once lent him the coat off his own back.
Hoyle said that it’s this “collective effort” that keeps him sitting. He intends to remain at the feet of the statue until he graduates.
“I’m not changing the world overnight. I won’t have changed the world in a week when it’s the one-year anniversary (of the incident),” Hoyle said. “I think intelligence is key. I think knowledge is key. I want to thank those who have stood by me, and I want to apologize to those who don’t want me out here because I’m going to be out here for a while.
“It takes just one generation to influence the next one,” he added with a grin. “It only starts with us, I guess.”