School tries to overcome history of segregation
In this Oct. 2, 1962 photo [above], students crowded the car carrying James Meredith to the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford. He had to be escorted by the National Guard and US marshals. (Associated Press/File)
By Emily Wagster Pettus
For Ole Miss, presidential debate marks racial progress
OXFORD, Miss. - Two generations ago, bullets flew and tear gas canisters exploded among the magnolias as segregationists fought federal authorities over the court-ordered admission of the first black student to the University of Mississippi.
It was the flagship school in what was then the most defiantly white supremacist state in the union. Now, Ole Miss is a diverse university where racial conflict is a topic for history classes, not a fact of everyday life, and it is hosting the first presidential debate featuring a black nominee for a major party.
"I think what we have here is really a confluence of two lines of history, where you have a new Ole Miss, a postracial Ole Miss, and you have a postracial black candidate running for president," said David Sansing, professor emeritus of history at the university. "Nowhere in America could these two forces reinforce each other as they do here at Ole Miss."
Barack Obama was a 14-month-old toddler in Hawaii when James Meredith, a 29-year-old Air Force veteran, broke the color barrier at the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1962.
Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat welcomes the Sept. 26 debate between Obama and John McCain as a chance to show the world an up-to-date image of the school. He recognizes that some people's only impression comes from grainy black-and-white footage from 46 years ago.
"It took a lot of years for the university to get beyond that. But we've done it," said Khayat.
A note from Radarsite: This choice of Ole Miss to host the 2008 presidential debates is a symbolic gesture to the world which may in fact be the most determinate factor of this entire campaign. This is what it's all about,folks. Sending a message to the world. We are telling the world that we're sorry. We're admitting our past failures and our primary responsibility for most of the world's present day problems. Our shameful record of racism and white supremacism has finally been overcome. Just look at us now, world. Look at how far we have come.
For those people here in America and around the world who truly embrace this view of the racist imperialistic United States, this message is probably even more important than the outcome of these debates. For no matter how our symbolic candidate performs tonight, his devotees will not be changing their minds or their votes. They are convinced that America is the problem in this world, and that the only solution to this problem lies in changing what it means to be an American. And Barack Hussein Obama personifies America's unqualified acceptance of its historical guilt and its commitment to change.
God help us all.