“The separation kept us apart”

Posted on Oct 1 2012 - 2:06pm by Lacey Russell

Fifty years ago to the day, racism and riots engulfed The University of Mississippi campus. Students, faculty and visitors came together Sunday night to commemorate the remarkable accomplishment by James Meredith in 1962. This week celebrates integration at Ole Miss, which began with Meredith’s admission 50 years ago. The Statewide Day of Remembrance: A Walk of Reconciliation and Redemption was held at the Ford Center. Due to complications with the weather, the originally planned Walk of Reconciliation and Redemption was turned into a “virtual walk,” which was combined with the prayer vigil. Bishop Duncan Gray III of Jackson opened the ceremony. “We gather as a people of faith. Unafraid,” Gray III said. “We are unafraid to look at the harsh reality of our past.” One of the keynote speakers of the night was the Rev. Leroy Wadlington, who witnessed the riots when he was 12 years old. “Fifty years ago, I sat with my family as we witnessed many people coming into the city of Oxford because of Mr. Meredith’s enrollment,” he said. “It was the separation that kept us apart as a nation.” Wadlington, who currently resides in Indianapolis, emphasized the question, “Who is our neighbor?” He continued by saying, “Now we can stand and say that we are one person and our purpose is to be kind to our fellow man.” Wadlington also reminded the audience that the process is not over. “It has not been easy. We still have work to do,” he said. Bishop Duncan Gray Jr., the father of Gray III, also spoke at the event. Gray Jr. served as rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford in 1962. “I was out on the campus during the riots,” he said. “I was trying to get the students to go back to their dorms. Some of them dropped their bricks and left.” Throughout the night, everything started to get worse, according to Gray Jr. “I got tangled with Gen. Edwin Walker, who was telling others to come to Oxford and protest.” Gray Jr. said he begged Walker, who was seen as a leader at the time, to tell others to go home. “I still continued to try to get people to leave. I finally went home around midnight,” Gray Jr. said. One of the other speakers was Major Chuck Bolen. As a member of the army that was sent to Ole Miss during the riots, Bolen was prepared for what lay ahead of him. “As the command entered the Lyceum, we witnessed burning vehicles outside and blood on the floor of the building,” he said. “We were directed to be prepared to send a force to Oxford.” Bolen, who was an operations officer at the time, made sure everyone in the command knew what they were walking through. “We were an integrated army; regardless of race, our responsibility was to close down Oxford,” Bolen said. “We blocked every entrance.” He closed his speech with a humorous remark: “The U.S. Army is an integrated union, and we have mighty fine outfits.” Between every historical narrative, prayers of redemption, consecration and reconciliation were made. Following the prayers, there were soloists who sang the songs “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” Among the audience were faculty, students, Oxford residents and others who came to witness a reflection on history. “I wouldn’t have the friends that I have now, nor would I be enrolled into the university,” said Courtney Pearson, senior secondary English education major and the university’s first black Homecoming Queen. “It’s surreal that all of this happened 50 years ago. We have progressed so much.” The night ended with the audience holding an electric candle singing in unison to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Bishop Duncan Gray III concluded the ceremony with a warm smile. “What a beautiful sight to see us here,” he said.