Escorted by police officers and university officials, dozens of university students marched from Lamar Hall to the Confederate monument in the Circle on Monday evening to commemorate Black History Month.
“I feel like this walk is important because it represents not only what we have achieved but what we will achieve in the future as black students here at Ole Miss,” Dee Harris, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said.
The march was organized by “The Great Eight” black student organizations on campus: The Black Student Union (BSU), Educated, Successful, Talented, Evolving, Empowered and Motivated (ESTEEM), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), Men of Excellence, Black Gospel Choir, Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS) and the Increasing Minority Access to Graduate Education Program (IMAGE).
“Saying that we are Ole Miss, too, and doing this march — it’s showing that we’re not just tagging along, but we are incorporated in this school. We are overcoming so many things, even just growing the number of minorities here. A lot of times, being a minority at Ole Miss is a struggle,” Jada Broughton, a freshman psychology major, said.
The groups registered the march with the university, and when they did so, they requested that the university place a podium behind the Confederate monument in the Circle for student leaders to speak. However, when the march reached the Circle, the podium had been placed in front of the Lyceum instead.
“They placed it in front of the Lyceum, but we decided that we wanted it where we said we wanted it, so we just picked it up and moved it,” Arielle Hudson, president of the BSU and the university’s first African American female Rhodes Scholar, said.
Hudson said she did not want to speculate on whether the university officials’ placement of the podium in front of the Lyceum was intentional.
Once the group reached the monument, the Black Gospel Choir led them in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as the Black National Anthem, and as the harmonizing faded, Hudson stepped up to the moved podium and spoke about the importance of inclusion on campus.
“October 1, 1962, James Howard Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi as the first African American student at the university. He was the first African American student on this campus, but he wasn’t the first African American to be in this place,” Hudson said. “This place and the spaces around it were built by black hands, on the backs of black and brown people.”
This was the second annual march organized by black students on campus to honor the lives and legacies of African Americans at the University of Mississippi. The event was centered around the phrase, “We are Ole Miss, too.”
“One year ago today, we were standing in the same place, using the same tactic that those who came before us used and had been using for years,” Jalien Grant, the university’s NAACP president said.
On Feb. 21, 2019, these same groups gathered in Lamar to participate in the first Black History Month march on campus. Hudson said that the meaning of last year’s walk was lost in the pro-Confederate marches that were happening in Oxford on the same weekend.
“It was supposed to be like what this was today: a commemoration walk of all of the sacrifices and legacies of African American people,” Hudson said. “But last year, with everything that was going on with the Confederate statue and the Confederate 901 group, people saw that more as a protest, so they were more eager to jump in and be here, as you can tell by the crowd difference.”
Tayonna Smith, a freshman member of the BSU and ESTEEM, said she has never participated in an event like the march. She also said it was especially important for her to march in honor of Black History Month because the university is a “PWI,” or predominantly white institution.
“As a minority at a PWI, because of the things that had to happen in order for us just to go to this school, (a march like) this needs to be done,” Smith said.
Thomas Ward, a freshman member of the BSU, said he attended the march as an ally to show his support for the black students who are changing the university.
“This march is very symbolic because it shows the direction that we want to move this university,” Ward said. “There is a group of people here who want to make change happen, and they will.”
Almost every student present said they planned to participate in at least one of the Black History Month events this week, and several student leaders of the march said they want to remind the university community that the remembrance that happens every February can and should be continued throughout the year.
“People need to know that we value this place just as much as anyone else values this place,” Kaylan Gilliam, the president of ESTEEM, said. “We belong here just as much as anyone else does, and (we’re trying to change) the narrative of Ole Miss itself as we’re trying to change the culture.”