On Oct. 1, 1962, James Meredith became the first black man to attend Ole Miss, making history and changing the future of The University of Mississippi forever.
To commemorate the occasion, the university is hosting a number of events centering on Meredith to celebrate the anniversary, labeling it “50 Years of Integration: Opening the Closed Society.”
Chancellor Dan Jones charged faculty members on campus to create and oversee different events that would effectively educate not only students of the university but also people throughout the state of Mississippi.
“The purpose of the committee was to simply put together events that would educate the student body as well as the Ole Miss and Oxford community – to show the U.S., the state of Mississippi and then the world that racial progress within the state start here,” Julian Gilner, assistant director of alumni affairs, said.
For years, the university has been tarnished with negative stereotypes regarding race because of its history.
The question for many is: Why after so many years? Why do so many people believe the university is just as it was 50 years ago?
Dr. Donald Cole, assistant provost and co-chair of the Civil Rights Movement subcommittee, said that after individuals properly examine the university they will see it has transformed.
“We’ve kind of examined some thoughts ourselves and found them not to be worthy to carry on,” he said. “We ourselves have done a lot of changing, and I’d like for people to have an open mind, open enough to see positive changes and embrace them.”
One of the most important things the committee would like to achieve is active student participation.
Student-led organizations such as the Associated Student Body and the Black Student Union have also contributed to some of the events.
“Meredith and Me” is a student awareness campaign that was started to help promote these events and get students involved.
“The campaign for students is predicated around the four words on the civil rights monument in between the library and the Lyceum: Courage, Opportunity, Perseverance and Leadership,” Coulter Ward, assistant dean of student affairs, explained. “Each week before the walk on Sept. 30, we will be focusing on one of the words.”
On Sept. 30, the official celebration events will kick off with “A Walk of Reconciliation and Redemption” from the Gertrude C. Ford Center to the Lyceum. Students are being en couraged by the university to promote the events and the campaign on social networks.
Anyone can tweet and post Facebook statuses using the words of the week and hashtagging “Meredith and Me.”
“I think the student response has been great,” Ward said. “It’s tough to get the word out, but it’s a slow-moving giant. I think getting the historical significance out to students could be improved. Ultimately the committee and I want the students to be invested in this event.”