Barack Obama’s campaign believes he won the first presidential debate on Friday, while John McCain thinks he came out on top. Then there are those who scored it a draw. But by all accounts, Ole Miss came out a winner.
Ole Miss, as the University of Mississippi at Oxford is known, was the scene of a historic battle 46 years ago during the civil rights struggle when James Meredith became the first African-American student to enroll there.
Meredith — born June 25, 1933, in Kosciusko, Mississippi, also the birthplace of Oprah Winfrey — enlisted in the US Air Force after high school. Ten years later, he entered Jackson State College. While studying there, he applied to the University of Mississippi but was denied admission twice. Believing he had a “divine responsibility” to break the “white supremacy,” he continued his struggle.
Finally, an appeals court decided Mississippi was illegally maintaining a policy of educational segregation. Meredith entered the campus on October 1, 1962, with an escort of federal marshals.
CBS News veteran Bob Schieffer writes, “Of all the stories I’ve covered including Vietnam, the most terrifying experience I ever had was that night that I spent on the campus of Ole Miss when a riot broke out. Hundreds were injured and two people died as protesters tried to stop a black man from attending a tax-supported state school.”
On Friday, when Schieffer returned to the campus after 46 years, “all that seemed long ago and far away.”
He says: “Ole Miss was hosting a presidential debate that included the first African-American to capture a major party presidential nomination. Everyone had joined hands to insure that it went off perfectly, and it did.” Meredith remained under guard until he graduated in 1963 with a degree in political science.
Dr G. Bhagat, a Patna University and Yale alumnus who joined the political science faculty in 1964, says the atmosphere was tense those days. “Now things have changed well. The campus is integrated,” he told the Hindustan Times.
Dr Bhagat, who retired in 1994 as professor, still lives in Oxford with this wife, Sheela.
Ole Miss isn’t perfect. But like the United States, it has come a long way.