Fifty years ago, one of the ugliest moments of American history occurred, when the University of Mississippi was integrated by James Meredith, its first African American student, but with a cost initially of two killed, hundreds wounded, due to a racist mob that descended on the university campus, and battled with the National Guard mobilized by order of President John F. Kennedy to enforce federal court orders allowing Meredith to be enrolled.
Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett refused to enforce the court order, requiring Kennedy to do what President Dwight D. Eisenhower did five years earlier at Little Rock Central High School, the use of the National Guard under Presidential control, taken away from the state government’s authority.
What a terrible message this violent riot sent to the world, and the propaganda given to the Soviet Union about American “democracy”!
The incident etched in the memories of millions of Americans a terrible image about Mississippi and the deep South which still has not left us, and while the situation in that state has improved somewhat, it still is seen as a backward, regressive state in the minds of many, and has led to lack of economic growth even in recent times, and the loss of a Congressional seat, rare for a “Sun Belt” state, after the Census of 2000.
Has racism nationally declined from its peak fifty years ago? The answer is YES, but the fact that we have an African American President does not mean the end of it by any means, and has actually made for a new racism. The reality that many whites refuse to see Barack Obama as a legitimate President shows just how much work we need to do to overcome it in the long term, and how much of that racism is still taught at home by parents!