Imagine being the journalist assigned to call an eighty-one year old man to tell him that the statue of his image, erected close to the site where the governor of his state physically barred his access to college 52 years ago, had been draped in a vintage confederate Georgia state flag, had a noose wrapped around its neck -- in other words, had been symbolically lynched? James Meredith received calls from journalists this week, after the memorial to integration at the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, was vandalized on Sunday.
Let's traumatize him again, shall we?
Meredith's response to the news of what was almost certainly a hate crime on the Oxford, Mississippi campus? He told Shay Harris of WMCT that the crime confirmed what he already knew, " that Mississippi has a moral character breakdown."
As an historian who thinks a lot about the legacies of painful histories, I was concerned that the media might track down Meredith for his reaction. To me, the story didn't lie there, however. More important is the campus's response. First, there is the alumni association's decision to offer a $25,000 reward for information that led to the arrest of the vandals. Was this, I wondered, because they really wanted to find out what happened or because they knew they weren't going to? Was it an act of defiance against hate crimes or an attempt to save face while also acknowledging the likelihood that the campus would keep its secrets? Time will tell.