I can remember the first time I watched “Ghosts of Ole Miss,” and I heard Wright Thompson talk about the state that both he and I call our birthplace. Many of you may not know, but Thompson and I are Mississippians by birth and he spent most formidable years there, while I grew up throughout the South, we are shaped by our years in Dixie.
“Ghosts of Ole Miss” introduces viewers to something that many may never have seen and hopefully may never have to see in person, the burning of a cross. When I was just born in lower Mississippi, a couple of blocks over from my house, a cross was burned and this was the late 70’s…even then hate hadn’t died. In fact, I’m certain we’ve all come across hate in our daily lives no matter where we live, lower Mississippi or lower Manhattan, it’s everywhere.
Thompson talks about the fact that his parents made the choice of not waking him up when the cross was burned and his parents wanted to let him sleep so that he was not introduced to hate and prejudice. The ironic part is at the same time, I heard my daughter coming downstairs to ask for ibuprofen for her aching growing pains.
I had to pause Netflix and minimize the screen because I did not want to introduce her to the kind of prejudice and hate that Thompson spoke of in the documentary. I don’t think it’s fair to introduce her to it. Sure she’s been to the South and I’m certain that at some point even in the North she’s been around prejudice people but I’m going to do everything that I can not to subject her to this kind of hate.
What’s amazing about “Ghosts” for me, is that as someone who spent the first six months of my life in Mississippi, I know very little about the state, but I’ve heard all the stories about James Meredith and Ole Miss. I’ve seen it in the history books. I’ve seen the stories about how the Kennedys and the Marshals stepped in to push Governor Barnett out-of-the-way so that Meredith could attend college in Oxford.
What I didn’t see was Meredith. I was fascinated to see Meredith and to hear his words. I’m certain that in a way he was a bit scared but he comes across so arrogant that I can’t help but be enamored. Here’s a man who for all intents and purposes is fighting what amounts to is Deep Dixie and is thumbing his nose at the regime. The black and white footage of football games showing stands filled with white people and you hear Meredith say he wants to attend a football game. It’s an amazing statement for a man who has fought the establishment and changed the futures for millions of black Mississippians forever.
At one point one of the members of the Ole Miss football team from 1962 talks about looking around and seeing black people being poor living in situations that mimicked 1862 conditions. 100 years later and things had not changed in Mississippi? What is wrong with humanity? What were we doing? At least the football team was winning though, I mean, Governor Barnett was more than happy to show up there and throw up his hands and tell up his hands and tell everyone he loves Mississippi and “her people.” Just so long as you were white that was.
Sometimes I wonder about how far we’ve come as people. You can watch “Ghosts” and see what Bobby and JFK did to protect Meredith, how the Marshals gave their bodies to protect his right to register for class, how he was protected and how some people were treated because they decided that Meredith was a human being just like them even though he had a different skin color. It’s sad. It’s just sad.
But it needs to be seen. We need to learn. We need to see what happened so that we know not to let it happen again. Thompson says that on the night of the riot America fought a “war with itself and won.” I don’t know. Yes, Meredith changed the lives of countless Mississippians and changed Ole Miss forever. I agree completely. I think what he did was brave and he should be commended.
But I think America is still fighting with itself. We are still judging each other. We are still fighting each other instead of praising each other and promoting each other. We need to take the lessons of “Ghosts” and use them to teach our children. We need to teach them that there’s no excuse to discriminate against others. 100 years, 1862-1962, and nothing changed in Mississippi. Can you imagine? Think about what happens in 100 years. How sad is that? Teach our children how much we truly can change in 100 years…how much we failed in those 100 years…and how much James Meredith made up for those 100 years in just those few days.