Welcome to our special chat about tonight's 30 for 30 on the 1962 Ole Miss football team and the integration of James Meredith at the university. Obviously, I didn't grow up when this happened, but I lived in Oxford for 18 years and this story has always been part of my life.
Really looking forward to watching this. Have called a few buddies to remind this as well. May even get my mind off my Vols and the coaching rumors for a while!
It really is a powerful story. This team was watching as the world was changing all around it and all it wanted to do was play football and do what it knew. Then it got caught up in a firestorm on its campus. Riots. The army. Two deaths. How these guys stayed focus through all of that is just amazing. To go undefeated with all those distractions is hard to believe as well. They started the year as football players, and then turned into real people in the real world.
I was a 12 year old kid at the Ole Miss-Kentucky game the weekend everything broke loose. I have been in the newspaper business since I was 17 and wrote this column about that game and the integration of UM ... http://dailysoutherner.com/opinion/x354175518/Remember-all-history-good-and-bad
I think that it's always important to remember both sides. Integration at Ole Miss was a very controversial issue. Obviously, today's world doesn't deal with race relations the same way, but I've always been told that you'll never know who you really are or where you're going until you know where you've been and where you've come from. I think Ole Miss and the state of Mississippi face that with a story like this. It's hard for a lot of people to believe how big of an issue this really was for the university and the people in and around it. It just shows you how far we've come as a society and how far Ole Miss has come as well.
How much of impact do you believe the events that took place surrounding James Meredith's enrollment have on recruiting top African American prospects today for Ole Miss?
i think it does have an impact. Remember, Ole Miss was the last SEC school to integrate its football team and while that happened years and years ago, it's still a topic of conversation in the recruiting world. It's used in negative recruiting and it's something that has hurt this team when it comes to recruiting. The issue with the confederate flags being in the stadium certainly turned off a lot of athletes, no matter their race. Obviously, they aren't allowed in the stadium anymore, but all a coach has to do is bring up Ole Miss' dreadful pass when it comes to race relations and high school athletes can get uncomfortable. Sure, things have certainly changed, but I'm sure it's still something that high school players talk about and I"m sure they talk to Ole Miss coaches about it.
When James Meredith integrated Ole Miss, I was only 13 years old. My father drove me through ?the circle? several days after the riot. That part of the campus was a mess. One day, after church, my aunt and uncle (who was the mayor of Oxford) took my father and me to eat at the Ole Miss cafeteria. While we were eating, someone yelled, ?He?s coming.? Then James Meredith and his family entered the cafeteria. When they got through the line, they sat at an empty table in the middle of the room. The students pulled their tables away and some threw their milk cartons at them. Most were empty, but not all. James Meredith and his family just kept eating. I remembered thinking, ?Why are these people being so hateful? He just wants to get an education.?From those days to the present, Ole Miss has become a very different institution. This year the student body elected a black homecoming queen. Ole Miss has become and is continuing to become a much more diverse university, and that is all to the good. I am looking forward to the day when Hugh Freeze and his staff will recruit great athletes (regardless of race) and return Ole Miss football to the glory days of the past. By the way, I was Edward?s high school senior counselor. Edward was one of our top students and we are very proud of him, even if he sometimes gets his predictions wrong. Regardless of what he says, Ole Miss is going to beat Georgia this Saturday.
Talk about a blast from the past! I hope all is well, it's been a very long time since you helped me send off all my applications and transcripts. A big thank you to everything you did while I was in school. I think the really important thing to take from all of this is just how far Ole Miss has come. Like I said, I'm sure its past is still brought up in recruiting and there are always things around campus and around town that make people remember what happened, but Ole Miss has grown so much. It had some very dark days but real progress has been made over the years. Listen, I grew up in Mississippi, as you know, and I've always heard the remarks and jokes about the state being backward, but I know first hand how different things are. My loved all 18 years of my time in Oxford
How do you think the school and state have grown over the last 50 years? What will it take for those outside to see the growth?
They have to go in and see for themselves. Growing up a biracial person in Oxford, I've been around plenty of racial incidents, both good and bad. There are always going to be people who say ignorant things. No one is perfect, but people need to realize that there are right-minded people in the state. It's not the 1960s anymore, but I think people who have never been to the state or don't know anyone from the state still think that the negative attitudes from some people back then still remain. Are their people with similar thoughts and feelings? Absolutely, but it isn't the majority and I think people only assume that it is. Visit the state every once and a while.
Ole Miss claimed three NC right in that era between 1959 and 1962. Along with all the hype of Civil Rights, Ole Miss lost it's glory in football along the years. I lived in Oxford for 4 years '03-07'. I watched one of the most hardhitting games in the LSU v Ole Miss game with Eli. Ever since Eli left and the Orgeron era took over then Nutt and now to Freeze.. Will we see a reemergence of the Rebels over the coming years? I know Freeze is a smart recruiter and offensive guru, but with the dominant programs around him (LSU, BAMA, FLA, GA, USC) and the other rising programs (MSU,Vandy) will Freeze be able to eventually put together enough talent to challenge these programs year in and year out? The difference in the MSU v Bama game is Bama has 1000 5 Star prospects while MSU probably has none. Ole Miss could eventually be put in that state. Will they ever come back to glory under Freeze or is he a short term guy?
It all comes back to recruiting, and I think Freeze has done a great job with that. And in a twisted way, it goes back to that 1962 team. There's still that stigma about Ole Miss. I have talked to high school players before who have said that they'd be nervous about playing there because of the history. It really is interesting how the events from 40-plus years ago still affect a program today. Now are race relations a huge subject of conversation with Ole Miss coaches and recruits? I seriously doubt it, but the simple fact that it comes up hurts the program.
Hey Ed, looking forward to this great story tonight. Just curious, does the show mention Bear Bryant bringing USC's Sam Cunningham back to Alabama's locker to show them "a real football player" after getting beaten badly by the Trojans? I just read a quote from one of Bryant's assistants saying "Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King did in 20 years"?
I haven't seen the film, so I'm not sure if that is a part of it. Interesting how much of an impact football had on this subject back then.
Not really a question, more of an observation. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, we can't erase the past. But I can say that OM was an entirely different place during my student days ('72-'76) than that depicted by Wright Thompson, and much progress continues to be made (and credit is due Chancellor Robert Khayat for many of these changes). I was there when Ben Williams was selected by students as Colonel Rebel, and Barbara Biggs was Miss Ole Miss. In his discussions of OM post-Meredith, I don't remember any mention of this by Mr. Thompson (though I may have missed this).I found Mr. Thompson's discussion informative, especially its impact on the football team (and look forward to the film), but a sad reminder of what was a dreadful period in my alma mater's past. As I said, much progress has been made but I'm fearful the airing of this documentary will mostly revive the acrimony so many people continue to throw at us. I hope I'm wrong about this, and I hope people will appreciate the changes that have occurred in the past 50 years. Regardless, I'm proud of OM for its progress.It will be interesting to see the public's reaction.
Again, I haven't seen the film, but just looking at Ole Miss and Oxford you can just see all the change that has occurred over the years. Just look at my parents. They arrived in Oxford in the 80s as an interracial couple and stayed there until they passed away. They never thought about leaving Oxford. I grew up with a diverse group of friends. But it's important to remember that Oxford and Mississippi weren't the only places like this in the world. I think what gets thrown in Ole Miss' face is all the animosity surrounding Meredith and the length it took to integrate the university and the football team. This year, Ole Miss crowned its first black homecoming queen, Ashleigh Davis. The state gets a lot of flack, but there really is good, rich history there.
Going back to the 1962 team, I think it's very impressive how much those players helped rally a town and a university. They were playing and living in basically a war zone and brought hope to people who were frightened by everything that was happening. Even with all the chaos going on, this team stuck together and rallied a lot of people. I just don't get how this team was able to go undefeated. They were just students. They were kids, really. They were near the Lyceum Building when everything was happening. Buck Randall helped a US marshall that was bleeding to death. This team could have easily quit, but it didn't It made history on and off the field.
It's also important to note that most of the players stood by and watched the chaos unfold. Very few were involved in all the violence. Some tried to break things up and keep people calm. I think at the end of the day they knew their job was to concentrate on football. Yes, they were students, but they also knew they had something special going on the field and to turn their attentions elsewhere was going to ruin everything they had worked for.
Thanks for everyone who showed up. It should be a great film tonight. Take care.