Archive for July, 2015
Over the last month, the national discussion around the acceptability of so-called Confederate flag and all its accoutrements has captivated me. Having attended the University of Mississippi during a time of not-quite upheaval that led to some much needed soul searching about the symbols of the school, I am kind of taken aback by how little resistance Southern pols have put up in the face of public outcry in the wake of the massacre in the Emanuel AME Church. They have folded easier than a card table. However, I also am awed by how much activists fail to comprehend how ingrained The mythology of the Confederacy truly is in the South. I’ll grant that Oxford, MS is pretty much ground zero for this mythologizing, but I think my experiences may add some context to just how Sisyphean the struggle to eliminate vestiges of the Confederacy is.
I arrived at the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1996, as a grad student in Southern Studies. It didn’t take long to realize that campus was basically an Old South theme park. It wasn’t so much the Confederate monument, the neo classical buildings, or even the hoop skirt and Confedrate grey clad coeds riding around campus on flat bed trailers during Old South Days, though those surely helped establish the theme. More than anything though, there was a sense that everything was colored by the lens of the Old South, all the time. Every part of the Oxford and the University was all about the South, all the time, always. Except the parts that weren’t.
The year before I got there, the college had hired a new Chancellor, Robert Khayat, who had been a place kicker for the Rebels and had played in the NFL for, somewhat ironically, given his politics, the Washington Redskins. He was also of Arabic descent. Khayat was ambitious and forward thinking and was vocal about wanting to modernize the University. Soon after I got there, I joined several of my classmates, including future food writer John T Edge, in an organization with the goal of commemorating Ole Miss’ role in the Civil Rights movement. At our first meeting, we were told that, the previous spring, Phi Beta Kappa had declined UM’s application with a single sentence, “Deal with your history.”
To be continued…