Fifty-two years ago today, James Howard Meredith was escorted onto the campus of Ole Miss by federal marshals. He wanted to be a student there.
Hell-on-earth in the form of tear gas, bulldozers and gunfire would ensue. Two people would die. Many others would be injured. A quaint Mississippi village would soon be the scourge of a nation, an affront to civility and the rule of law.
The next day, however, Meredith would be admitted. And, now, instead of an embarrassment and because of these events, Ole Miss is viewed by historians as a proving ground of American democracy.
Others would follow Meredith, and not just blacks.
Indeed, any of us who, as students, had the privilege of learning and interacting with large numbers of classmates whose customs and cultures differed from our own are beneficiaries of James Meredith and those who fought for his admission in 1962.
While some would still continue to resist change by refusing to send their children to integrated schools, Mississippi’s public school classrooms of the 70’s and 80’s were largely diverse. There were healthy numbers of both white and black students.
However, fast-forward to 2014 and we have lost much of what Meredith and so many others fought for a half-century ago. While there are still wonderful examples of racially diverse schools in our state, too many have essentially returned to segregation and cultural homogeny.
Today, too many of our children are missing out on the right and privilege of racial diversity in the classroom.
Fifty-two years later, how will we honor James Meredith?
Will it be by words or actions?