By Jay Thomas Willis, Senior Columnist
James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1962, with much fanfare and seeming difficulties. Most in the Black community, and other liberals thought that was a good thing, and that we were making phenomenal progress. Sometimes what seems like progress may not be actual progress when examined closely. Meredith did experience some problems at “Ole Miss,” since that time Black students around the country continue to experience similar problems. Things still haven’t changed that much, even though there has been some obvious progress.
I’m sure Meredith experienced many negative situations while he matriculated at “Ole Miss.” For example, students might leave empty seats all around you. Someone might try to distract you from taking notes, by putting their feet on the back of you chair and pressing against it.
At sporting events and other activities other students might sit separately from Black students. In some situations Black students separate themselves. This is a type of self-imposed segregation. In the cafeteria Black students frequently sit in their own groups. It seems at times at so-called integrated schools there are two schools in one rather than there being full-fledged integration. Frequently, Black students consider it better to simply attend a Black college; one’s chances might be better for gaining life-social skills and obtaining a desirable degree.
I experienced many negative situations when I entered college in 1966 in East Texas. Black students are sometimes ignored in the classroom, and treated as if they are invisible. I recall being in college in 1968, and one professor treated me with what I thought was little respect. One day a Chinese guy from Taiwan and I were sitting in the far back corner of the classroom. The professor seemed upset at what he saw, and invited the Chinese guy to come up front, and completely ignored me. He acted as if where I sat was of no consequence to him, or maybe I was supposed to sit in back of the classroom.
It was embarrassing when one professor in another English class, in discussing the play Othello, said that, “Othello was a Moor, and therefore miscegenation was not a problem in his relationship with Desdemona.”
I was further embarrassed when once in an Introduction to Sociology class, I recall the professor saying intelligence was normally distributed among all groups. One young lady raised her hand and asked, “Even among those tall Watusi?” She seemed to refuse to accept Blacks as equal in intelligence with other groups.
It mortified me when one young lady raised her hand, in a discussion of the spending habits of Blacks on Welfare. She asked, “Why do Blacks buy expensive 25 inch color TVs (this was the largest screen at the time), stereos, and cars, even though they are on Welfare. I was too mortified to say anything. I had to get my thoughts together. I figured she must be prejudice, and that it was out of my league to try and answer such a question.
While in college, one of my teachers, an elderly female, made the comment, “Anyone can run and jump.” I assumed that she meant to imply that anyone can do well at athletics, while it takes a greater degree of intelligence to excel at academic pursuits. Since Blacks are good at running and jumping, I believe this was a direct put down, and meant to affect my self-esteem. I was the only Black student in the class.
Once we decided to organize a panty raid. We organized a group and left the boys’ dorm headed for one of the girls’ dorm. The boys were excited and were yelling out loud, “Panty raid!” One student from another boys’ dorm saw some Blacks in the crowd, and yelled out loud, “Blacks can’t get white panties!” I was like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. I was embarrassed and devastated, and left the group and returned to my dorm.
Even in the new century things haven’t changed all that much. I remember taking my son to college in 2009 for his orientation. The sky got dark as night at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The school got notice of a tornado having been sighted. We were at the dormitory. I was sitting there not paying much attention, use to storms in Chicago on a frequent basis. The storm came up and I noticed there was no one sitting in the waiting area but me. Finally, a young dormitory assistant came over and told me at the last minute about the impending storm. The point is she had told everyone else about the storm, and deliberately told me at the last minute. I felt bad for my son as well as myself. Everyone else was gathered in the hallway of the dormitory except me. This gave me a good idea about the type of treatment my son would receive at this college.
We have integrated but it is increasingly difficult to actualize that integration. Integration in general has not improved our situation. Some Black students still experience negative treatment. Integration at the college level is strong at this point, but we are still not fully functional. In some cases integration is worse off than it has ever been. Integration has been hampered by the inability of minorities to get loans and scholarships. When we do get loans we end up being in debt for life almost. In urban areas integration is slow to take place in high schools and elementary schools, so that when students make the transition to college it’s more difficult to make the adjustment.
Things have changed, but much remains the same, since James Meredith’s integration of “Ole Miss.”
Mr. Willis is a Senior Columnist and Political Analyst for The Mid-South Tribune ONLINE and the Black Information Highway. He is the author of twenty-three books, fifteen professional journal articles, a number of magazine articles, and over 300 newspaper articles. His books can be reviewed at http://www.jaythomaswillis.com. Email him direct at email@example.com . For more on Jay Thomas Willis, travel on the Black Information Highway at www.blackinformationhighway.com . Welcome, Travelers!