By William Garner
Ole Miss, Class of 1980
In the spirit of promoting a better and more complete appreciation of the current protests against the Confederate Memorial, it has occurred to me that the current protests against racism, bigotry, and oppression should be placed in the proper context.
I fully understand the courage, and commitment that it takes to protest against the brutal reality of racism, bigotry and oppression because I have met both James Meredith and Ross Barnett. The current protests against the Confederate Memorial are indeed courageous because the “Contextualization” document clearly indicates that at the dedication ceremony some 100 plus years ago bad words were spoken. The Memorial is, they would have you believe, all about racism, bigotry, segregation and Jim Crow. Obviously, it takes brave people to fight against these things at the University of Mississippi.
James Meredith walked on to this campus, looked racism right in the eye and did not blink. One night it seemed the whole world exploded around him, but James Meredith had the guts to stay and see it through. That’s courage.
Want to know about racism, bigotry, and oppression? There is a famous photo of a little girl being escorted to school in Little Rock, Arkansas through a mob of angry, passionate people intent on stopping her if not harming her. Read that story. That’s courage.
Consider Rosa Parks on the bus in Atlanta. She was just too dang tired to put up with it, so she stood up by sitting down. That’s courage.
Marching against a Memorial to dead soldiers? It may be courageous for a history prof, but it really doesn’t compare very well to civil rights protests.
These current mobs would have you believe that they are fighting the evils of oppression, racism and bigotry when in reality they, like Don Quixote, are fighting against imaginary evils. If the worst example of racism and bigotry on campus can only be found in the dusty words at a memorial dedication some 110 years ago, I think we all can agree that there isn’t much of a problem on campus today. If there is real racism and bigotry on campus, let’s leave the memorial to dead soldiers alone and fight the real problem.
The dilettantes and pretenders stomping and chanting around campus today want to cloak themselves in the bravery and honor that rightfully belongs to James Meredith, Rosa Parks and the incredible little girl in Little Rock. That’s stolen valor. They want you to believe that they are as brave, and as committed as James Meredith, Rosa Parks, and that little girl, but I do not believe they have the same commitment. The mob would have you believe they are fighting for right when all they are really doing is trying to kick over a memorial to fallen soldiers. In my day, the authorities used fire hoses and police dogs to break up marches for civil rights. A lot of people bled for those rights. Some people died for those rights. Today, I suspect, all it takes to break up a march is happy hour at the Square.
It’s pretty clear that today’s marchers have as much respect for James Meredith, Rosa Parks and that little girl as they do for the fallen soldiers. Please don’t confuse this mob with the heroes of the civil rights movement.