Mississippi Yearning: Ole Miss ‘Race Riots’
Some in the South need to let go of its past.

On the campus of Ole Miss, November 6, 2012


Lee Habeeb

The day after the non-riots that created the fake national story at Ole Miss, Chancellor Jones issued a grand statement about the incident. Students rallied at the Lyceum the next night holding candles to let the world know that their Ole Miss is not the Ole Miss of the past.

It was a beautiful gesture, but aren’t such vigils relegated to deaths? To real tragedy? And do you think the same media that described what happened as riots really cared about that follow-up event? Or the reputation of Ole Miss?


Meanwhile, James Meredith, the man who had the courage to challenge segregationists back in 1962, was asked what he thought of the non-riots by a reporter with WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi. This was his reply:

It’s difficult for me to realize that 50 years after I went to Ole Miss, that black students could let themselves be distracted by such foolishness. We are already generally behind, and I would suspect that the average freshman at Ole Miss, their college entrance score is on average lower than your average white score, and if anyone doesn’t have time to be paying attention to such foolishness, it’s us.

That didn’t get much coverage by the media. Or the Ole Miss powers that be. Meredith wasn’t finished.

Whatever happens to the black race in Mississippi depends upon what we do, not what someone else does against us, or to help us. Our future is up to what we do, and I don’t think we have time to worry about anything else.

It is important to understand Mississippi’s past, and what happened in 1962. And yet I sometimes suspect that there are some at Ole Miss who don’t want to let go of the past, even as they talk about the future.

I recently corresponded with one of the thought leaders at Ole Miss’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, and asked why he and his students weren’t writing about some of the remarkable stories coming out of the South, and Mississippi.

I told him that he should do some reporting on the rise of the new South, because in the past decade, more Americans have headed south than to any other region in America. Wouldn’t that make a great grass roots/WPA-style oral-history project? And shouldn’t more Americans know this story?

Let’s tell the story of the reverse migration of African Americans to the South. Why are African Americans returning here in record numbers? How racist can the South be if African Americans are moving back? And, irony of ironies, moving to red states to escape the high taxes, dreadful public schools, and dangerous streets of liberal cities such as Chicago and Detroit?

Let’s talk about the factors that led a great industrial power, Toyota, to locate their capital, and their trust, in Tupelo, Miss. a few years ago.

Regrettably, many of the white liberals running academic institutions not only at Ole Miss, but at many other southern universities, are not working on such stories. I suspect that the reason they don’t is that the stories don’t comport with their ideology. Or the narrative of the South in which they’ve invested so much of their energy — the legacy of the civil-rights era.

“The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past yet,” William Faulkner once said. That is true. But not even someone as imaginative as Faulkner could have dreamed that a Japanese company would be making American cars in, of all places, Mississippi.

Yes, Mississippi still has some racists, just as New Jersey and Boston do. But it’s time for the leaders of Mississippi to move past “Mississippi Burning,” even if the media elite can’t. Because the people of Mississippi — black and white — already have.

Mississippi isn’t burning. It’s yearning. Yearning for academic leaders who can reflect and project the confidence of a truly talented and inspired people.

Yearning for academic leaders who know the worst of times are long behind us, and that like any other place in this great country, a few knuckleheads do not define a proud and rich culture.

Yearning for academic leaders who will make excellence their mantra, not political correctness, and who will create an environment that breeds creativity, not conformity.  

One thing is certain: The way to gain the respect of outsiders isn’t to burnish your racial bona-fides and beg them for absolution. And you don’t develop self respect in students  by coddling them in an academic cocoon and treating them like children.

Toyota believed in Mississippi enough to build a plant here.

Here’s hoping our academic leaders believe in Mississippi — and our fine young adults — only half as much. 

 Lee Habeeb is vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt.