"Mississippi, with its rich and dramatic history, holds a special place in the civil rights movement. Perhaps no other institution in that state, or in the South as a whole, has been more of a battleground for race relations or a barometer for progress than the University of Mississippi. Even the school's affectionate nickname - Ole Miss - bespeaks its place in the legacy of the South: now used as short for Old Mississippi, "Ole Miss" was once a term of respect used by slaves for the wife of a plantation owner." "Throughout the first part of this century, the state's "Boll Weevil" legislators presented the most implacable hostility to black enrollment. The campus itself - with its stately white columns and field of Confederate flags at sporting events - seemed almost frozen in time. With the civil rights movement and the arrival of the first black student in 1962, the quietly determined James Meredith, violence and hatred erupted with regularity on the verdant campus.
As in her biography Strom Thurmond and the Politics of Southern Change, Cohodas has produced a thoughtful but rather bloodless study of a racial icon. "After writing about civil rights for 10 years... I came to question whether the goal [of integration] had been realistic," Cohodas declares. However, this history of race at the University of Mississippi lacks an in-depth portrait of the de facto segregated campus today; its inclusion might have helped illuminate that history. Cohodas capably reconstructs the straitened 1950s, when campus newspaper editor Albin Krebs's support for integration provoked nasty responses. The tenacious James Meredith became Ole Miss's first black student; as a third student arrived, the leading critic of the faculty , author of Mississippi: The Closed Society, was run out of town. Pockets of Ole Miss progressed in the 1960s; the law school granted new scholarships and recruited leftist teachers from Yale. Cohodas describes how Ole Miss experienced episodes of Black Power and slowly integrated its sports teams; she gives an interesting explanation of how the campus was driven not just by race but also by class, with students in the Greek system dominating campus life. In the 1980s, Ole Miss was still divided over symbols such as the rebel flag, and black alumni remained aloof. By 1990, black students finally won such positions as campus newspaper editor and Miss Ole Miss. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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June 24, 2012
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