The Legacy Of Ida B. Wells And The Struggle For Racial Justice At ‘Ole Miss’Historians in the News
tags: racism, Ole Miss, Racial Justice, Ida B. Wells
Michelle Duster is an award-winning author, speaker, and educator. Her professional background includes two decades of writing in advertising and marketing communications, event planning and concert promotion. Since 2008 she has written, edited and contributed to nine books and dozens of articles. In addition, she is active with several committees and boards to develop city, state, and national projects that focus on African American’s and women’s contribution to history. She is the great-granddaughter of Civil Rights icon Ida B. Wells.
In September 2018, Ed Meek wrote a Facebook post that targeted Black students at the University of Mississippi. Meek, a wealthy white donor to “Ole Miss” implied that the presence of Black students at the university would result in a “3 percent decline in enrollment” and that “real estate values will plummet.” He juxtaposed this racially-coded language with images that singled out Black women. The fact that the school of journalism bore his name following a $5.3 million donation transformed his comments into a reflection of the school’s attitude as a whole.
Ole Miss has a long history of resistance to the attendance of African American students, dating back to when federal marshals protected James Meredith when he desegregated the school in 1962. Fifty-seven years later, in a state that is 39 percent Black, only 14 percent of Ole Miss’ student population is African American. The university has held unto its symbols of the Confederacy for decades — its mascot was “a white-goateed, cane-toting Southern plantation owner” until 2010, “Old Dixie” was its school song until 2016 because of “tradition” — and continues to grapple with how to deal with monuments to Confederate “heroes” on the campus. Ole Miss’ resistance to change in deference to “heritage” reflects how it prioritizes the histories of some monied people instead of those oppressed by it.
Meek’ s remarks, which implied that the presence of Black women on campus devalued the school, motivated several members of the faculty, staff, and students to sign a petition calling for several changes at the school. The petition requested that Meek’s name be removed from the school and replaced with the name of journalism pioneer and native Mississippian Ida B. Wells.