Monday, September 22, 2008

America's Litmus Test (Part II)

I earlier wrote about how some propose electing Obama is America's litmus test of redeeming itself. WSJ carries an interesting article today (Sep 22nd) about University of Mississippi hosting the first Presidential debate for 2008. This university, it should be noted, "gained infamy in 1962, when U.S. soldiers were called in to put down a riot resisting the enrollment of the school's first African-American student, James Meredith. It was a crucible in the battle over integration in Mississippi, where the 1955 murder of a 14-year-old black boy had helped start the civil-rights movement and the murders of three civil-rights activists in 1964 spurred congressional passage 11 days later of the Civil Rights Act" (WSJ). It is here that Barack Obama will debate John McCain. Today, "black students, for years reluctant to enroll, now comprise 16% of the student body. School officials say their goal is 37%, reflecting blacks' representation in the state." (WSJ).

The article warmly records the very important steps taken by the Chancellor Robert Khayat, "After taking over in 1995, he banned Confederate flags at football games, provoking an unsuccessful federal lawsuit and death threats that led him to hire a bodyguard. A beloved Ole Miss athlete in the late 1950s, Mr. Khayat, 70 years old, also removed the venerable sports mascot, the Confederate Colonel Rebel....He approved a new campus institute for racial reconciliation that helped organize blacks and whites to formally demand prosecutions in the unsolved 1964 civil-rights murders, a move that led to the 2005 conviction of a former member of the Ku Klux Klan...
In 2002, on the 40th anniversary of Mr. Meredith's admission, the school for the first time honored the surviving soldiers who had subdued the mob."

To be sure all is not 100% perfect, "Others say hostilities still percolate". An alumnus sums up ""There definitely are a lot of people who don't help out the cause," he said. "They don't belong on our campus....But it's not a majority."

The real icing is "In 2006, Ole Miss unveiled a life-size bronze likeness of Mr. Meredith, and praise streamed from all quarters. "One of the things we agreed on is we did not want to be historical revisionists," Mr. Khayat said. "We are who we are, but we're not who we were."

Now that is what I call intellectual integrity. This is what we expect from a University chancellor. To heal searing wounds like that inflicted in Missippi within 24 years is a great deal. While we should not settle for half-way reforms, it would do well to recognize the gravity of progress and pay respect to the courage of the few. Certainly Mr Khayat deserves our respects.

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