Learning about UM and civil rights

Published 1:18 pm Friday, October 9, 2015

I learned a lot on Sept. 30 when I watched a slideshow of newly released photographs from Ed Meek’s book, “RIOT.”

The date was the 53rd anniversary of the University of Mississippi riot and the panel featured Meek, Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie and former Gov. William Winters — all three who recounted their personal experiences.

During the slideshow, at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, I saw the riot for the first time. I learned a lot in the presentation about the statistics of the demonstration. Who could imagine more than 30,000 men in uniform roaming the streets of Oxford nowadays? The scene would be unreal.

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Growing up in Mississippi my entire life, I have heard stories, seen movies and studied the civil rights movement in American history classes, but all of those failed to provide me with what Ed Meek’s photographs illustrated; the mass hysteria of the event.

Now, I walk through downtown Oxford, across the Grove, and I visit the library. I always see students relaxing or studying and they choose those spots because it is peaceful. In the photos the clouds of tear gas and burned-out cars were so close to those same places, but it looked so foreign. If it had not been for the Lyceum’s Tiffany and CO. clock, seen at the top of some of the pictures, I would have never been able to recognize my own college campus.

In spite of the uproar, the most compelling aspect of the story was James Meredith’s courage. There have been plenty of riots for thousands of years over millions of issues, but, if it were not for Meredith’s resilience, I believe Mississippi would still be in the Reconstruction era of race relations.

The protesters treated Meredith despicably as a man, especially as one who had served his country in the military. He deserved the education he enrolled for, not their disrespect. For standing up for his right, he stood up for the rights of others and that makes him a hero.

People like Meredith and others who strive to make Mississippi better for future generations are the ones who rightly deserve their place in history and in our hearts.

Lyndy Berryhill is a staff writer for the Oxford EAGLE. Contact her at lyndy.berryhill@oxfordeagle.com.