The ghosts of Mississippi

Editor’s note: This column have been updated to include the correct name of an individual identified as shouting racial epithets.

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History on the rerun. Ghosts of Mississippi. Magnolia State maintains its horrendously racist image.

Any of the statements could be used to describe the images shown across the nation last weekend at the University of Mississippi at Oxford.

Dozens of students at the university’s flagship campus gathered last week to protest Israel’s war in Gaza and to call for the school to be transparent in its potential dealings with Israel. These demonstrators were confronted with hundreds of counter-protesters, in contrast to the few dozen pro-Palestinian protesters.

Less than an hour after the protest began, police disbanded it – notably after counter-protesters threw items at the pro-Palestinian group. Police safely evacuated the pro-Palestinian students as the largely white, male group of counter-protesters chanted: “Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” “Who’s your daddy?”, “USA”, “Hit the showers”, “Your nose is huge” and, in one instance, included a white man making monkey noises at a Black woman.

On Sunday, Phi Delta Theta fraternity responded in a statement, saying it was aware of the video that showed the actions of one counter-protester and had removed that individual, identified as James “JP” Staples, from membership.“The racist actions in the video were those of an individual and are antithetical to the values of Phi Delta Theta and the Mississippi Alpha chapter,” the statement read.

In response to such an odious incident, the University of Mississippi’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stated: “The behavior witnessed today was not only abhorrent but also entirely unacceptable,” the statement reads. “It is deeply disheartening to witness such blatant disregard for the principles of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.” Former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner wrote, “This is a video showing anti-Blackness,” reposting Collins’ post. “This is a sitting Congressman applauding it.”

Shockingly, there were those who condoned and applauded such deplorable behavior. Rep. Mike Collins, a Georgia Republican, shared the viral video on X saying, “Ole Miss taking care of business.” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, who himself recently declared April as Confederate Heritage Month and April 29 as Confederate Memorial Day, captioned a video of the counter-protesters singing the national anthem with “the ‘protests’ at Ole Miss today. Watch with sound. Warms my heart. I love Mississippi!”

Given his previous endorsement of racist legacies, such retrograde remarks should hardly be surprising. .

This overtly racist commentary parallels the Mississippi of yesteryear. In September 1962, Mississippi governor Ross Barnett –  a staunch and defiant segregationist – spoke to an all-white crowd of more than 40,000 people at the University of Mississippi football game against Kentucky. As Confederate flags waved, Barnett said: “I love Mississippi. I love her people. Our customs. I love and respect our heritage.”

The next day, an insurrection took place on campus as James Meredith enrolled, becoming the first known Black student in the university’s history.

Realizing that he stated the quiet part out too loud (at least for a governor) Reeves parroted statements similar to those echoed by Joe Biden the morning of the protests. In Biden’s statements on the protests around the nation, he said: “We’ve all seen images, and they put to the test two fundamental American principles … The first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld.”

Jailyn R. Smith, the young woman who was the subject of the attacks, made it clear the juvenile comments did not get to her

“The monkey gestures – and people calling me fat or Lizzo – didn’t hurt my feelings, because I know what I am,” Smith said. “I am so confident in my Blackness. I am so confident in my size, in the way that I wear my hair, and who I am. They do not bother me. If anything, I felt pity for them for how stupidly they acted,”

Smith, who is scheduled to graduate later this month, certainly demonstrated herself to be the mature, decent human being in this sordid encounter.

This incident at Ole miss gives adage to the statement “the more things change; they stay the same.”

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.