Ghost Story

By Ramzy Nasrallah on October 31, 2012 at 2:55p
ghosts of mississippi 30 for 30

Try to name a film set in Mississippi that isn’t tinged with racism.

It’s actually easier than it may seem, even as you fumble through The Help, Mississippi Burning, Ghosts of Mississippi, (anything with Mississippi in the title, really) A Time to Kill, Life, In the Heat of the Night and O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Perceptions of Mississippi outside of the region are still largely shaped by the television images from the Civil Rights movement. You see the image of a burning cross and Mississippi isn’t just one of the top five answers on the board; it is the top answer. It’s all you need to know if you’re into the convenient packaging of moving pictures depicting places you’ll never go, populated by people you’ll never meet.

James Meredith, shown being escorted to class at Ole MissJames Meredith, escorted to class in 1962.

The perception of Ole Miss football outside the region is even less complete. The Rebels haven’t won the SEC in nearly 50 years, so they’re rarely discussed on the outside. Even Minnesota and Indiana have each won the Big Ten in that span (and the Gophers have also beaten the Crimson Tide more recently).

Adding to the Rebels’ mystery: The program barely ever ventures out of its footprint on purpose. Ole Miss is winless against the Big Ten in just four meetings, has never played a Pac-12 team, is 0-1 against the Big East and 1-2 against the Mountain West.

The sites for Ole Miss’ purposeful football exhibitions are connected by short bus rides from Oxford or commuter flights not long enough for beverage service.

Ole Miss football is the hermit kingdom of the SEC, held under the oppressive thumb of Kim Jong-Reb for decades. There are some dispatches from Oxford that make it to the outside world: The boys wear ties to football games. The girls all major in animal husbandry and are anatomically flawless. Archie Manning and his youngest son played there. And everyone saw The Blind Side.

Ole Miss football is the hermit kingdom of the SEC

Beyond those novelties, all that we outsiders (see: Yanks) have to judge Ole Miss football is its exported imagery: That recently-discharged Colonel Reb, those stubbornly-flown Confederate flags, the uniforms bearing a curiously strong resemblance to those worn by Union foes between 1861-1865, that Dixie song, and finally, losing too many battles.

Yes, some metaphors are just better than others. This is where Ole Miss football is without peer.

Clarksdale native and ESPN senior writer Wright Thompson began to examine the South after he had grown up and moved away. That’s when he first discovered the story of the 1962 Ole Miss football team from a half-century ago. Remember how the Rebels haven’t won the SEC in nearly 50 years? The ’62 team was the finest one of its most recent dynasty and possibly the best in school history.

That team served as the backdrop for Thompson’s Ghosts of Mississippi which has been adapted into the latest installment of ESPN’s documentary series, Ghosts of Ole Miss. It’s the largely forgotten story of the ’62 team’s gridiron journey which was obscured by the riots surrounding James Meredith becoming the first African-American to attend the university.

The film provides convenient packaging for the time period, but it’s far more than that: Ghosts of Ole Miss is a disquieting glimpse into a heritage that the University of Mississippi has repeatedly tried to expunge, reshape and embrace simultaneously.

And yes, of course it’s tinged with racism. It’s got Miss right there in the title.

[If you are still trying to name a Mississippi movie that doesn’t have racism sewn into it story, look no further than Biloxi Blues. Or Crimes of the Heart, My Dog Skip, The Long, Hot Summer, Cookie’s Fortune or Crossroads - the one with Ralph Macchio about blues musician Robert Johnson, not the Britney Spears one. That one took place in Louisiana.]

Back in early 1998 my parents informed me that they would be leaving my hometown of Columbus, OH to pursue opportunities elsewhere. I was 24 at the time and living on my own in Chicago, so this development affected my holidays and little else.

They had not yet determined exactly where my future Thanksgivings and Christmases visiting them would be spent, but they shared with me their Final Three. “Home” was going to be near one of three campuses where they would work: Princeton, Stanford or Ole Miss. Jersey or the Bay Area, I thought at the time. It’s not Columbus during Ohio State-Michigan week, but it definitely could be worse.

My parents had previously lived in New York and San Diego before settling at Ohio State for my formative years. I never considered the South a legitimate contender for their next move. Mississippi is not a destination. People just happen to be from there. Its presence among the Final Three was little more than column fodder, an unnecessary baseline comparator for Palo Alto and Princeton.

A month later in Chicago I got the call: Column fodder was triumphant. My Lebanese immigrant parents had chosen the Deep South over the coasts on account of a research grant being funded by money from the Big Tobacco settlement that would soon be depicted in the 1999 Russell Crowe/Al Pacino film The Insider (which was shot in Pascagoula - there’s another non-racial one for your burgeoning list).

Everything I knew about Mississippi I learned from my television, Tennessee Williams or William Faulkner.

It was an upset that rivaled Charles Woodson stealing the Heisman from Peyton Manning: A possibility all along, but assumed to be more of a novelty than an inevitability. My family was actually moving to Mississippi.

Everything that I knew about my parents’ future home state I learned from my television, Tennessee Williams or William Faulkner, which made it both bleak and beautiful. But goddamn it I was really looking forward to getting into San Francisco or Manhattan in winters, not to some place in the sticks where the Confederate flag was defended, revered and still displayed publicly without shame.

Speaking of sticks and incendiary flags, Dr. Robert Conrad Khayat was the Ole Miss chancellor back then. He found the Stars and Bars appalling and was forced to deal with the challenge of extricating the symbol of Southern defiance from the Rebel faithful without violating their freedom of expression. Dr. Khayat was trying to get a Phi Beta Kappa chapter established on campus and believed that the perception of being a “racist school” would undermine that initiative.

U.S. Marshals bracing for a riot.

Southern defiance is exactly what he got in return for trying to take away their precious flag, as the backlash turned into a defense of all Ole Miss traditions. Try and find one that doesn’t carry racial overtones: The school’s nickname, its mascot, that flag or campus streets like Confederate Drive, which has since been renamed Chapel Lane. They were tumors wrapped around the University of Mississippi’s reputation. Phi Beta Kappa probably wouldn’t touch Ole Miss with a ten-foot...pole (more on that in a bit).

Over a decade earlier, removing the Stars and Bars from the state flag in favor of a more unifying emblem had been brought to vote by then-governor William F. Winter. The votes, which were cast entirely along racial lines, came out in favor of keeping it the way it was. It indicated that as long as there were more whites than blacks in the state, the status quo would probably have the necessary numbers to maintain preservation. The Ole Miss chancellor was forced to get creative.

“Khayat said that if these guys are going to keep bringing in those flags, we’ll just get rid of the sticks,” Ghosts director and Peabody Award winner Fritz Mitchell told me. “So the athletic department banned flag sticks because they posed a safety hazard. Sticks were eliminated: Corn dog sticks, flag sticks, all sticks. Just blame it on the sticks.”

The ban on bringing sticks into Ole Miss games remains today.

The ban on sticks at Ole Miss games remains today. Those little pervasive pom-poms that can be seen in any SEC stadium carry specifications at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium: They are required to have rounded plastic handles. That’s just to keep all of the incendiary sticks out of the game.

Khayat retired from Ole Miss in the summer of 2009. That same year Ole Miss banned the playing of From Dixie with Love by the band at games, because "the South will rise again" was routinely chanted by fans toward the end of the medley. The university had tried unsuccessfully to stop that tradition, but the fans would not relent, shouting the phrase even more enthusiastically once they were told to stop. That old, reliable Southern defiance had struck once again.

So Ole Miss just banned From Dixie with Love from being played entirely. No more song. And no more sticks.

Ghosts of Ole Miss doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. The film opens with the reenactment of a giant cross burning in the front yard of Thompson’s childhood home.

His parents were absorbing the consequences of being politically active against the status quo in the Mississippi Delta. Thompson, whose brilliant autopsy of the chaotic 1962 season is the vehicle for the documentary, details his search into that Rebel team while trying to better understand why he knew nothing about it despite being one of the greatest teams to ever play college football.

In trying to unearth the rationale for keeping this precious and rare chapter of football excellence a secret, Thompson asks himself two conjoined questions: What is the cost of knowing our past?

And what is the cost of not?

The most remarkable football season in Ole Miss history took place as the university was openly self-destructing over the admission of a single African-American student. Segregationists led by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett battled federal and state forces over Meredith’s admission to the school. Two people – a French journalist and an electrician, both bystanders – were executed in the mayhem. The rest of America observed in amazement while the Kennedy White House watched closely with concern.

Oxford started to get sideways in late September. Two months earlier, Faulkner had died of a heart attack.

Among the least earth-shattering revelations in American history is that the North welcomed racial integration more swiftly than the South did, but that’s just too vague of a point. What’s more fascinating is that nearly a full century after the Civil War had concluded American soldiers were invading the state of Mississippi again. And as was the case 100 years earlier, it was on account of racial strife.


The first black football player for the college in the town where I grew up was a defensive lineman named Bill Willis. His number 99 is permanently affixed to the overhang in C-Deck in the closed end of the Horseshoe and won’t ever be worn again. Willis had played on Ohio State’s national championship team 20 years prior to the Ole Miss riots, in 1942.

While Meredith was under armed protection just trying to become the first African-American student to enroll at Ole Miss, Willis was already doing charity work in Columbus a full decade into his retirement from a Hall of Fame NFL career. They were black men living in the same country, but under radically different circumstances.

Meredith and Willis’ respective campuses are just a little more than 600 miles apart, but despite being 20 years the elder and enrolling at Ohio State over a decade before Brown vs. Board of Education, Willis’ celebrated steps on campus had been greeted by raucous cheers across the racial divide. Meredith’s steps required the President of the United States to dispatch the Army’s 503rd Military Police Battalion to join the US Border Patrol and the Mississippi National Guard in keeping the peace among the state’s own citizens.

Those 600 miles are a lot further apart than they may seem. Context makes it brutally clear why it’s so difficult to celebrate that magical 1962 season in Oxford. Too many guns. Too many helicopters. Too much embarrassment. Too much tragedy.

“That Ole Miss team gets lost in time,” said Mitchell, who also directed the 30 for 30 film on Jimmy the Greek. “It’s forgotten. People want to be more interested in current events. A lot of events from the Civil Rights movement get folded into Hollywood movies, but for young people – and some older ones too – this will be a fresh story. I’m not sure very many people (beside Thompson) have been able to make connections between the riots and the football team.”

The connection was deeper than people think. In his interviews for the film, Mitchell was told repeatedly that the 1962 team was viewed as being “the last Confederate soldiers.” Before each game the Ole Miss cheerleaders would run out onto the field with that giant, unmistakable battle flag of the South. This game day tradition only began after Harry Truman, whose ancestors were slave owners, became the first president since Abraham Lincoln to address the Civil Rights issue.

The cover of Sports Illustrated from Sept. 24, 1962Sports Illustrated, Sept. 24, 1962

His White House injected itself into the issue of segregation, and as a result the flags came out on Saturdays in support of the team in the blue/gray uniforms. It was a Civil War reenactment with blocking and tackling instead of cannons and bayonets. Fast-forward to 1962 and the university was in the throes of an actual battle for segregation while its football team was pursuing an undefeated season. In hindsight Ole Miss might have been shut down were it not for its perfect Rebels.

Preserving the traditions of its dead ancestors had been a vicious battle in Mississippi since the Reconstruction. As with all wars, at some point the cost and benefit need to be reevaluated.

“(Governor Winter) basically told me it has gone on for far too long,” said Mitchell. “Enough is enough. Mississippi should focus more of its time and efforts on education and health. It’s such a poor state economically, ranking near the bottom in so many categories and investing so much energy in this just wastes a lot of time. How far do you go?”

Some of those involved in the riots stopped fighting long ago. You can’t go back and change who you used to be; you can only change who you are and who you become. Bobby Boyd, a third-string QB in 1962 – as well as a member of the Ole Miss baseball team – had been personally involved in the rioting and is among those who have since let go.

“Boyd came in (to be interviewed) and almost did a mea culpa. He was horrified at how the state, the team, he himself and everyone had treated Meredith. He said that no one should be treated like that. But to a man, who is going to admit to being a racist? We heard a lot of, 'we were just trying to play football. We were just trying to win games.' That’s just the way the South was. It’s a hard thing to say about yourself.”

Meredith was ultimately admitted to the University of Mississippi and eventually graduated with a political science degree long after the riots had been quelled. But the story of the riots didn’t necessarily end with the troops drawing down, Meredith collecting his syllabi or even the Rebels concluding their march through the SEC en route to the Sugar Bowl.

Just two weeks following the riots the biggest crisis of the Cold War began. The Cuban missile crisis pushed the country toward nuclear conflict, and Oxford abruptly fell off of America’s front pages as the riots slipped out of the nation’s consciousness. Its aftermath was lost in the global fear over medium and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles being pointed at America from 100 miles off her coast.

After making their choice, my parents began house hunting in a nice suburb not far from the University of Mississippi Medical Center. As they explored the space of one particular house, the realtor who had accompanied them did her best to bring value to her new clients.

“I need to disclose something to you,” she said solemnly. “There is an African-American family that lives on this street, just a couple of houses down from here.” She communicated this news earnestly, making sure that these homebuyers from Ohio understood everything about the purchase they were considering.

“Why are you telling me this?” My mother asked in disbelief. “If we buy this house do you have to disclose to other buyers in the neighborhood that we’re Arabs?”

“Oh, of course not,” she replied calmly. “That’s different. This is just something I need to tell you.”

It was reflective of the market the realtor was accustomed to. She was there to do exactly two things: Sell a house and gain a source of future client referrals. Providing a disclosure like that was more a function of fulfilling the latter goal than tipping her personal views on race. That’s what markets do. They respond to the demands of the people and they’re largely utilitarian. The majority rule, which is why Winter’s unifying symbol initiative fell to the will of racial divide.

And she was selling a house, the same way that Khayat was selling the University of Mississippi to Phi Beta Kappa. You can change the market only by shaping the demands of the people, which defiantly prefer to shape themselves. Southern defiance is just one of many flavors of market demand. It cannot be recalled; it can just be shaped into Southern acceptance. And like so many aspects of the South, that shaping happens very slowly.

Dan Rather, reporting from the scene of the riotDan Rather reporting from the riots.

Ghosts of Ole Miss concludes with a glimpse into that metamorphoses, which contrasting against the events of 1962 demonstrate just how much the culture has changed despite the imagery that has been exported from the SEC’s hermit kingdom for decades. It probably isn’t enough to change the minds of outsiders, but that’s just because it’s difficult not to judge a book by its author.

The South berthed Ole Miss, and Ole Miss is the South. The perception is anchored to the past and still lags behind. Regardless of the real changes in actions and attitudes – Ole Miss’ reigning Homecoming queen is Courtney Pearson, an African-American student who overwhelmingly won the popular vote – the university is still pinned beneath that perception which took decades to construct upon itself.

But Ole Miss will rise again from that perception – it is an inevitability. The catalyst for the 1962 riots was developed over centuries. That culture was baked in, and it is now slowly being bled out.

Some Ole Miss students and stakeholders were nervous about how this film will paint their school and, by extension, themselves. I think they’ll be understandably disturbed by some of the footage, but they’ll be pleased with how the story is captured and told. You can’t change where you’re from. You can’t go back and change who you used to be; you can only change who you are and who you become.

Thompson and Mitchell put a humble and promising bow on the film, which differs only slightly from the story on which it is based. In a series defined by so many well-constructed and substantive chapters, it’s very difficult to name a single 30 for 30 film that is significantly better than Ghosts of Ole Miss. It’s even harder to name one that is more important.


Comments Show All Comments

fansince1968's picture

A great, informative article. Thanks Ramzy!

+1 HS
ohiowhitesnake's picture

Great read as always Ramzy! I lived in South Mississippi for six years and witnessed very little racism on the Gulf Coast. It seemed as if South of Haitesburg was a different state. I did see the racism first hand in 2006 near Jackson. I was on a local traveling softball team. Mostly military guys, and a few were black. We stopped just north of Jackson for gas and snacks. I was pumping gas and a friend comes out of the store and says we "have to leave now". I was confused but went along and jumped back in the van. When I got in the story goes...white guy and black guy go into said store. Clerk tells black guy to get out. Knowing that the tone was racial he leaves store. He was in the military and didn't want to cause a scene. Clerk then tell white guy to hurry up and get "those n****" away from her store. White guy, cursed out clerk and threw his purchase on the ground. Needless to say its sad racism still is alive in well in Mississippi. Sad thing is if those people knew those guys were in the military I think the attitude would be different. Ramzy is right unfortunately... you can't change where you are from!

*postedfrom my phone....please forgive errors*

I finally got a set of Gold Pants!

+1 HS
spqr2008's picture

Fantastic job as usual, Ramzy.  I remembered the James Meredith Story because some members of my church had gone down there with the Freedom Riders when they were younger, but I didn't connect it and the undefeated team that year at all.  On a lighter note, I will always think of Ole Miss as the school that rejected Admiral Ackbar as its mascot, regardless of whatever other history may occur there (including the future education of one Leonard McCoy).

German Buckeye's picture

Sad, but true in many cases - racism still alive and well in many parts of the south - not just limited to Mississippi.  Informative writing as usual Ramzy. 
I'd love to see what you'd come up with if writing a story on the student athletes/soon-to-be Soldiers that attend West Point (or Naval Academy/AF Academy) but I am biased towards the Army... 

+1 HS
William's picture

"Sad, but true in many cases - racism still alive and well in many parts of the south - not just limited to Mississippi."- Huh? I grew up in 'The South' and this simply isn't the case, sure there are isolated incidences, but it's not like racism is alive and well in the South in comparison to other regions of the US. It's everywhere, but it certainly isn't 'alive and well.'

+1 HS
JKH1232's picture

Shhhh... don't tell the yankees that.  If they ever find out that the mouthbreathing, inbred racist yokels they think we all are don't exist much, even more of them will move down here than already have.

+2 HS
BuckeyeinExile's picture

I have to disagree with that, I have lived down here in Mississippi for almost four years and have few good experiences. Segregation may be illegal but it still exists. All the white kids go to the private school that has tuition to expensive for any of the black kids. I know of a few stores that won't hire African Americans. I have had so many people come up to me and make comments about "the blacks" as they say - they think that just because I am white I agree with them on that. It is sickening. Yes there are rascists in the North, my High School football team had the only two black players in the conference so there were a couple times some things were said, however be that as it may, there has not been a single day go by since my wife and I have moved here that we have not seen rascism in one form of another - Mississippi is a different world. I can't wait until we can move back to the United States.

JKH1232's picture

Well, not a day went by in my 8 years in Columbus that I didn't see racism, either, so... I guess I fail to see your point.

William's picture

Wait a minute, a private school that has high tuition is your example of racism? You are kidding right? I grew up in North Carolina, which has been considered the most progressive Southern state (Up until 2012 when we passed a recent amendment that I won't discuss further), however the first time I was ever called a kike was here at OSU. I said there are isolated incidences everywhere, such as Jason's example of the Mississippi prom, or Pam's example of the Confederate Flag (Although that has little to do with racism and far more to do with Southern Sectionalism, trust me I dealt with plenty of rednecks in high school, they weren't racists, but they were definitely of the "South will rise again" breed.) My point is that using a blanket statement about it occurring in the South is ignorant. For every Little Rock, AR there is a Levittown, PA.

Pam's picture

The confederate flag is a symbol of racism (has there ever been a Klan rally or a white supremacist demonstration without one?) and of treason which is the correct term for southern sectionalism.  No one is denying that racism exists in every part of the country. But as Jason pointed out there are places where it is more overt. That is not a blanket statement for the enrire region nor is it ignorant.  I live in NJ. When I go to Cols. and meet someone for the first time they will often say "New Joisey" or make a "Soprano" or "Jersey Shore" joke. I don't know anyone who talks like that, looks like Snookie or belongs to the mob. However, that doesn't mean there aren't people who do.  Part of the history of this region is organized crime and it would be ridiculous for anyone to deny that. There were/are places where OC exists outside the NY/NJ area, it's just more overt here. Capice?

William's picture

Pam, the Confederate Flag was a battle flag, not a symbol of racism. Yes Southern Sectionalism=Treason, totally agree on that front, but you're entirely wrong about the purpose (At least in regards to its actual meaning, not the current uses of it by racist elements) and origin of the flag. I wouldn't say that organized crime is/was more prevalent in the New Jersey than it is in other regions of the US (Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami are all viable examples of this). Again, you're describing the history of a region, not it's current state. Which is what every single person does when they stereotype the South as still having a more racist element than the rest of the US. Just because something is adopted by a racist organization doesn't make the item itself inherently racist. Otherwise anyone displaying a swastika must be racist right? Even though its Hindu/Buddhist origin far predates Hitler's adoption of it?
I mean going along those lines of ideology, doesn't our very flag represent an entirely treasonous element? I mean that's what we are, a bunch of traitors that celebrate treason every Fourth of July. 

hodge's picture

William, beautiful response; although it's unfortunately not entirely accurate.
I have to say, that I differ on your interpretation of symbols and the meanings that they convey.  The truth of the matter is, that the origin of the Confederate flag are completely irrelevant to the way that it's interpreted today, much the same way as your aforementioned example of the swastika.  Unfortunately, even if you're Hindu or Buddhist, you display one of those puppies, and you're instantly associating yourself with its vastly more popular connotation.
The problem is that symbols' inherent meanings are vastly different--sometimes--than their modern-day interpretation.  For example, look at Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA"; most casual listeners would instantly relate that song to red-blooded patriotism, while in fact the song is an explicit protest about the treatment of Vietnam War veterans.  The two meanings are inherently conflicting, and the popular meaning is a far cry from its original intent--but it doesn't change the fact that it's the way the symbol is largely defined.  It's the same way that Skinheads are popularly believed to be White Supremecists, even though the group was originally a Leftist British counter-culture (similar to the Rockers and Mods)--it's a perception that a lot of Skinheads are fighting to this day, and it will take a lifetime to change.
The Confederate Flag doesn't inherently symbolize racism, it symbolizes state's rights (I once wrote a paper stating that the South was completely justified to secede from the Union)--they weren't just fighting that war for Slavery, they were fighting it for economic freedom.  But the bottom line is that that flag came to epitomize Southern Defiance to the cultural changes demanded by the "Yanks" in Washington; a defiance that--like it or not--has been largely defined by the struggles of racism.  It doesn't matter what the true "Southerners" want that flag to epitomize; the bottom line is that racism has completely outstripped that flag's intended meaning, much like the way Hiter forever changed the way we percieve the swastika.
I'm not saying that it's right, but it is how I perceive things.

William's picture

I'm not arguing that the Confederate Flag is used by racist organizations, it is, but rather that its use by those organizations is entirely faulty. The same can be said for the cross. The KKK implements a cross or even a burning cross in many of its demonstrations but I doubt that anyone identifies a cross as being a symbol of racism. I don't see the Confederate Flag as inherently racist, because that was not its intent, just because something is misrepresented by an organization, doesn't mean that it properly conveys the meaning of that item. In that instance I don't find Swastikas or the Confederate Flags as symbols of racism. 

hodge's picture

@WILLIAM - I see your point, but the fact that those organizations use said symbol--regardless of how appropriate the use of it is--does, in fact, alter the symbol's meaning.  The fact that the Nazis chose to adopt a Buddhist symbol meant that--beacause the whole world would come to know Hitler's crimes against humanity--the symbol would be redifined as a symbol of hate.  It might be a misrepresentation, but it is most certainly the most commonly interpreted meaning that the symbol has.  The Confederate Flag has been corrupted in much the same way: which means that every single bumper sticker, flag, and t-shirt bearing that image will carry that connotation, even if it's not the connotation that the bearer is intending to make.

BrewstersMillions's picture

I saw this debate coming a mile a way when I read this piece-William you certainly have not disappointed either. I had a comment loaded up but would have been the first to comment and did not want to have that be the first response to another homerun by Ramzy (Though at this point, calling them home runs might be redundant as everything the man pens is a hit).
I also figured it was a matter of time before the Confederate flag was brought up and again-William you did not disappoint.
I was ready to draw the apt comparison between the swastika and confederate flag given what it was supposed to mean and what it actually symbolizes-the point is, whatever it is supposed to mean isn't what it means anymore and a failure to understand that is a simple lack of common sense.
It may have been intended, and some may still see it in a certain light but the fact is, the confederate flag is one of the most recognizable symbols of hatred and bigotry in the world in which we all live-just like the Nazi's interpretation of an otherwise religious symbol.
I get that is used to mean something-but just because a new meaning has been branded on to it doesn't make it any less true. I live in the suburbs of Chicago while my dad and brother work in much, much rougher parts of town. I can assure you that should my dad or brother drive through their neighborhoods with a windshield sticker that says "Its not hatred its heritage" they would not have a chance to explain "what it really means".
Edit-I also find it an odd contradiction you are sort of guilty of. You are correctly pointing out that the current view of all things south is outdated. Then you go to illustrate the historical importance of the flag and swastika should somehow undo our current notion and thinking on those very symbols. Which is it? The South is different than history suggests becuase it is-the interpretation of those otherwise historical symbols are also different than their initial history suggests as well. It can't cut both ways for you, respectfully speaking.

William's picture

And that is where my problem lies. I find the use/interepretation of it in the current day as faulty. While I will admit that it is used to as a unifier for racist organizations (duh), I don't find it to be a symbol of racism, and that it is simply misused. 
Having grown up in the South I will tell you that the "South will rise again" contingency bothered me far more than the racist elements ever did. That contingency is what bothers me in the South, not this held belief that the "South is still more racist." I'd argue that the Confederate Flag is a battle flag, that stupid people with racist tendencies use to try and symbolize/flaunt their supremacist ideologies. Good discussing this with you and Hodge. 

BrewstersMillions's picture

You as well. Being from Illinois, and having lived in Ohio and Michigan for a few years of my life, I always found it particularly odd when I'd see people from any of those states proudly displaying a confederate flag...while living in (and probably being from) states that all fought...against that very flag you are so proudly displaying. I guess at least in NC it makes a little more sense that there are the "South will rise again" folks living there as opposed to Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan.

William's picture

North Carolina was actually the last state to secede, and nearly had no intention of doing so, until Tennessee seceded, because it then became sandwiched betweeen three Confederate States in Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina. North Carolina had a lot of men fight for the Union during the war, as they opposed the secession, while also contributing more soldiers to the Confederacy than any other state (Because they were forecefully conscripted in). This in fact is why Sherman did not lay waste to North Carolina like he did Georgia, Mississippi or South Carolina, because he did not see the state as a belliegerent but rather the recipient of very poor location.
Growing up in the South I still found the "South will rise again" sentiment stupid, and never quite comprehended why anyone would even champion it. 

hodge's picture

The most crippling irony is that had they freed the slaves, the South almost certainly could have achieved their goal and sued the Union for peace, thereby gaining independence.  This is one of the most interesting misnomers in history, Lincoln wasn't an abolitionist: he merely opposed the extension of slavery, and was about preserving the Union at all cost (including the suspension of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War).  He signed the Emancipation Proclaimation not to end slavery, but to prevent the British (who had themselves ended slavery in 1848, I believe) from aiding the Confederacy with supplies (like the French, who supplied Le Mat revolvers across the Confederacy during the earlier stages of the War, among other supplies), since they would not declare war against a country that opposed slavery.

William's picture

Totally agree. Also of note is that the Emancipation Proclamation never freed all slaves, as it left the Border States alone. Hell most Northerners weren't abolitionists, just like most Southerners weren't slaveholders, they just as you mentioned opposed the spread of slavery into further territories like that of California. None of it was about the morality of slavery, but rather economic competitiveness between the two regions. 

William's picture

I was waiting for someone to bring up the seemingly contradictory viewpoint I brought up there. I see it as this, people are stereotyping the South as more heavily racist because of past tendencies, while incorrectly drawing an artifact from the past and using it to identify with racist elements in today's society. The same goes for present day Germany. I don't find Germany to be anti-semetic or even have prominent anti-semetic constituencies (Austria is a completely different story), and I will also come upon the conclusion that the swastika is not a symbol of racism, but rather that it was adopted by a fascist, and misused in order to try and identify it with supremacist ideals. 

BrewstersMillions's picture

That's the part I found odd about the whole thing-it is incorrect to assume the southern states are any more racist than its northern counterparts despite what history suggests. Revisit last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs and ask Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward about how progressive Bostonians are after he knocked their Bruins out of the playoffs. But its also tough to assume the flag and swastika are to be viewed from their historical interpretations and not their present day ones. Its a tough nut to crack.

Jason Priestas's picture

This video is from 2009:

Morgan Freeman made a documentary in 2008 about the first racially integrated prom in Charleston, Mississippi history. In 2008.

Yes, racism exists all over the country -- Boston and Chicago, two very northern towns, have had their sad episodes in the past. But, it's okay to think that racism is more overt in certain parts of the country. Because it is.

btalbert25's picture

 Alabama became the last state to officially legalize interracial marriage in the year 2000 also.  Although I believe their law was unenforceable because of a Supreme Court Ruling in the late 60's, but it was still on their state constitution until the year 2000.  The state legislature shot down attempts to get rid of the language until 2000 where the citizens got to vote on it.  On the ballot the decision was 59%-41% to get rid of the language.  That's pretty close!  Anyway, here is the language that was actually on the state constitution until the year 2000. 
"The legislature shall never pass any law to authorise or legalise any marriage between any white person and a Negro or descendant of a Negro."

btalbert25's picture

I definitely agree, though, that racism and hate are everywhere.  There's no avoiding it and just because someone in Ohio or anywhere else keeps the language among friends or only when they are drunk or in the privacy of their own home definitely doesn't make that racism more acceptible.  As Jason said though, it's ok to acknowledge that it's far worse some places than other places. 

Pam's picture

South Carolina still displays the confederate flag on the statehouse grounds. Granted it no longer is flown from the capital rotunda, but the legislature won't remove it permanently. The NCAA boycotts SC as a result. There is a real stubbornness to acknowledge how the flag, "Dixie" and chants "the south will rise again" can be devisive and repugnant to both black and white people. Even the Ole Ball Coach says the flag should be removed. Heck, even Strom Thurmond said take it down!

Olemissbuckeye's picture

I agree on the whole Jason. I have spent my entire adult life in Mississippi and as a non-native generally avoided discussions of race like the plague. From time to time people would try to bait me with the "yall have racist people up north just as bad" argument. Yes, we have some ignorant and virulently racist people in the north and across the country. But this isnt a competition. Other places didnt have state sponsored commissions and institutionalized racism like they had in MS. There is still an undercurrent that exceeds what you would find up north on avergae in my opinion. Racism elsewhere seems to be used as an excuse to ignore both the past and present.
Now, I never had any issues in my classes and people got along quite well. In fact, I find myself getting defensive when people bash Mississippi. However, while the choice opinions have gone underground they still exist for many whites and it is flat wrong to deny it. Fortunately the Gov. Ross Barnetts and Gov. Bilbo`s are gone from state politics and old guard alumni are slowly dying off. Mississippi is moving in the right direction and I applaud Wright for his article and the movie. His approach to the story was the open and honest retelling that Olemiss needs and deserves. It doesn't demonize the old days in hollywood fashion and it doesn't present some old south, gone with the wind, bullfeathers utopia that never existed to begin with. Despite some tough history I am damn proud to be a Rebel.

timdogdad's picture

as shown in the program, the current student body president is a black women.  of course, she had a small racist incident but handled it with grace and dignity.  i wish in the show they fit in bob dylan's "oxford town".   

Tim's picture

Great article, hoping I get to see this 30 for 30 at some point.

raki's picture

Good read Ramzy..... Just saw the 30 on 30 last night.

GrayDay's picture

Great story, and agree it was a very good film.  I attended the Texas-Ole Miss game in September, when they honored the '62 team and Meridith (film footage is from that game).  Was my first visit to the state and as an Ohio boy I found it both very fun and occassionally wierd. No sense of any racial issues anywhere, except for the occasional flags - which don't appear as much as you might think.  They still sing Dixie before the game with gusto - easily the most enthusiatic expression of the day (not much to cheer for from the current team).
The '62 team got great reception at halftime as you'd imagine.  Then they announced Meridith sitting in the Pres box and the crowd gave a very warm ovation.  Not a standing, enthusiastic ovation, but very warm and respectful one and I remember looking across the crowd and noticing everyone clapping.  No older folks or anyone sitting on their hands.
Its got to be hard at a college football game where so much of the event is about tradition and honoring your home state heritage.  They want to have fun, and do, but that heritage hangs heavy over everything.

Olemissbuckeye's picture

After graduating from Ohio State in 2000 I attended lawschool at Olemiss from 2001 to 2004. It is a wonderful school and campus and I encourage everyone to put it on their bucket list of college football must sees. When I left Ohio I had a number of people ask me if I knew what I was getting myself into "down there", but everyone who came to visit eventually got it...which according to former coach Houston Nutt is the same rub for recruiting to Olemiss. Anyway, yes the state has some serious issues but it is a wonderful place filled with great folks. I have too many stories about great hospitality to get into here but please do check it out someday and hit me up for some local recommendations. Also, I have an original of the above SI issue in my office. In a neat twist of fate it contains a great article on Woody in his prime. Go Bucks and Hotty toddy!

Edit 1: @ramzy You deserve to pour yourself an old charter or "ol' cha-tuh" as the graduates from the 1950's called it when I bartended at alumni events. When working I defaulted to pouring Makers whenever someone asked for bourbon but the old timers would wag their fingers and say "no son...the ol' cha-tuh".

jestertcf's picture

When I watched this last night I was moved and informed. I think what struck me the most was the old timers, who were on that football team recounting the night the violence broke out.
This was can't miss TV. I am better for  having watched it.

~Because we couldn't go for three~

M Man's picture

Nice work as always, Ramzy.
But you overlooked the fact that the Ole Miss Rebels were actually a credible opponent in the SEC during Archie Manning's years, 1969-70.  They had winning records overall and in the SEC; they almost knocked off Alabama a couple of times in some epic games, and went to at least one bowl game that I recall.
The Ole Miss campus speed limit is 18 MPH, in honor of Archie's jersey number:


elloyd1681's picture

I enjoyed reading this article, Ramzy.  I, too, was moved by the film.   I saw it back to back with the recent 30 for 30, "Benji".  It made me wonder if Ben Wilson was overly thrilled by his 'good fortune' to grow up in the North.  Something tells me he wasn't.  
But, I really, really wanted to know if your parents bought the house and/or stayed in Oxford.  

MediBuck's picture

This is why I love 11W. You come to boorishly jeer the enemies of the Scarlet and Grey, then end up leaving with a little more cultural erudition about our nation's history and present state.

Btw Ramzy, now we know where you got your excellent teaching/writing skills. Are you also involved in academia like your parents?

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

NoVA Buckeye's picture

A phrase that defines Mississippi while confusing the hell out of you at the same time:
"Hotty Toddy"
Does anyone know what that phrase means?

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

Olemissbuckeye's picture

It is said that the cheer borrows its name from the hot boozy drink.

Hotty Toddy and Go to Hell LSU! (either is appropriate to yell randomly on any, cocktail hours, formal dinners, children's birthday parties)

cinserious's picture

As much as the South disgusts me with its racist mentality, there is still racism alive and well in the North, just not as overt. For instance, if I were black, I would much rather live in the South knowing how much the racists hate me than to live in a place like Indiana Where the sherrif's deputy who smiles in your face at the grocery store ends up wearing a white hood at night and tries to burn down your house. Thats only one state west of us! Ask Oscar Robertson. Georgia,Alabama, and all the reast of the southern states hate and despise the North to this dayand feel a separate country will 'rise again'.  As much as the 'deep south' makes me sick, Mississippi in particular does produce the best Blues music the world will ever know, so its worth visiting but I would never live there.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

William's picture

This may be one of the most ignorant posts I have ever read on this site. 

What the Fickell's picture

I'm not going to lie, the only reason I read this was because you wrote I'm glad I did.

Brady Hoke wears scarlet undies.

Boxley's picture

The greatest fallacy about racism, is that is exists more largely in the Southern USA.
I have lived in Florida 70's, Georgia 60's, Tennessee 60's, and Ohio in between and since, and by far the most racist encounters and actions I ever witnessed have all been in NE Ohio. I moved to NE Ohio 12 years ago after having lived in all of those other states and central Ohio. Now, of course,  this does not apply to all NE Ohio residents, but there have been more such encounters here than anywhere else I have lived and that is all that I am trying to detail in my response 
I retired in 2010 from the military after many years serving with my brothers in green, our only ball busting enmity was against the other colors of uniforms, the lesser branches wore ;), never the color of ones skin. If you were in uniform you were my brother. If you were not you were the person for whom I served, a human being.
I had soldiers leave my unit due to the racism they encountered at the local gas stations, grocery stores in the local towns around me. People whom I did not know simply because of the color of my skin, thought it was acceptable to talk about people of color in a derogatory fashion to me. I was shocked about how much more racist the area was, than all of the other places I had lived and served in were.
So let's not fool ourselves with thinking racism is a Southern issue. Racism is an issue of ignorance, one that is not geographical by any means. Racism exists all over the world where one group of people think themselves better than another simply by race, religion, nationality. Racism has existed for thousands of years, and continues to drive every single war on the face of this earth.
Racism is ignorance, and intolerance nothing more, racism is hate for another person, the reason usually a made up one birthed in ignorance. Racism is not limited to any one group of people or places, it either exists within you if you allow it, or it does not because you reject it and its fallacy.
Ramzy as the author above stated, I read this article because you were the author without knowing what it was about. I thank you for the content. I thank you for putting into words what many need to read, in a manner that all good thinking people can. Your ability to voice a tale is extraordinary. I am sure you make your parents proud, and they should be. Kudos to you once again , master of the written word. 

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

Olemissbuckeye's picture

The great fallacy of your post is the first sentence. But apparently there is confirmation of your personal experiences in NE Ohio.