Ed Meek: A decent man under fire

Published 5:40 pm Sunday, September 23, 2018

To the Editor:

You grow up in a town and know the people, and some people you don’t always agree with politically can still be your friends. That’s me and Ed Meek. He’s a traditional Republican (my guess), but we don’t talk about politics.

I was the same way with Buddy East. When I lived out in the county, I had problems with neighbors, my dog was shot and killed, and who did I call on but Buddy? He would say to me, “Milly, we are so different, but I sure like you. I liked him, too. And I like Ed Meek.

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I am a Democrat and don’t shy away from my liberal leaning ways. Now, I’m going to tell you a story.

I got a text from a friend yesterday saying “Ed Meek is under fire today. Wow!” She knows I worked with him on his book “Riot,” but what she doesn’t know is that he has been always supportive of me in my own photography and from his HottyToddy.com website he often posted news of art events I hosted.

Now, we are trying to figure out how to react to the posts from Wednesday night. Or maybe you have already figured it out, but wait, my story is still not finished.

We (Oxford and Ole Miss) have made the national news once again. From what I have been reading, along with the rage, there is support for Ed the man, the Ole Miss alumni who documented the integration of Ole Miss as a student, the businessman and magazine publisher, and yes, the human who made a terrible mistake by posting photos of two women (unaware that they were filmed) as examples of what our nighttime Square has become.

Let’s back up to 1962. Ole Miss student Ed Meek documented one of the most historic events of Mississippi’s history. As a photographer myself, and a person who loves justice, I cannot say enough about the insight his work brings to the understanding of the isolation and ridicule James Meredith faced at Ole Miss. That year was my first in Oxford. I was 13. We moved here from Memphis that year so that my mother could start pharmacy school.

I didn’t know Ed until years later when I was in journalism and we would meet through journalism events. As an adult, living in Oxford, I was always taking pictures. He was often present to document our Civil Rights journey. He knew we had a lot to overcome.

Even in his post on Wednesday, he started by saying I “hesitated” to post this, but he did anyway. What will be the outcome? Can we stop a minute and look at the whole picture of the man and of the Square in recent years?

From 1962-65, while my mother was in school here, my friends and I walked to the Square almost daily after school, and when I got my driver’s license, I loved driving around the Square. It was lonely and isolated after 5 p.m., and on weekends it was sleepy or “dead.”

Traffic went two ways back then! Imagine that!

Now, 50 years later, I avoid the Square on game nights. The last time I was there on a home game night, I felt a strong connection to my favorite Jimmy Stewart movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” – a thought that we used to be Bedford Falls and now we are Pottersville!

In that movie, it was all a dream, but this new Oxford is real. This is the new energized, wild, loud, fun Oxford. In general, our kids are good kids, kind, smart young adults. So, what happened when Meek saw those images? He reacted with a judgement about Oxford and the University in general. Choosing those particular photos is not at all typical of his character or his empathy, which most likely comes from his work as a student journalist, and the injustice he witnessed on the Ole Miss campus directed toward James Meredith.

Read “Riot,” his 2015 book about Meredith’s integration of Ole Miss. At least get a copy and look at the amazing photos Ed Meek took during those days.

Through his photos and stories, you will see the shame of our state government, the ignorance of our students and some faculty members back then, and the sadness on the face of Dr. Sam Talbert, then chair of journalism and to whom Meek dedicated the book.

Look, too, at the way Meek shows the dignity of James Meredith as he breaks the racial barrier. Something changed in him during the riot and in the coming weeks after. He went from standing on the sidelines with other students to a journalist taking pictures to tell the story.

In a conversation with Curtis Wilkie in the book, he admits it. “I didn’t know any different,” he says. “I hate to admit it, but it seems to me that, prior to the riot, I didn’t have a full understanding that it was just wrong.”

Near the end of the book, there is a photo I took of Ed Meek talking with James Meredith in Fulton Chapel on the 20th anniversary of his enrollment. I don’t know what they were talking about, but Meek was eye to eye with the man who changed his life.

The question now is do we forgive Ed Meek. Maybe because I have faltered before, judged before and wondered before if I would lose everything, I think we should. Despite all my mistakes, I am an okay person, and I am suggesting he is too.

In the big picture of his life, this is not what he wants to be remembered for. His love for this community and our imperfect people has added to our rich culture and history.

To the young women in the pictures, can you accept his apology, maybe meet with him? He hurt you and have every right to be outraged, but I know Ed Meek, and I feel strongly that his apology is genuine and that he is not a racist.

Milly West

Oxford, Miss.