As we maneuver the ins and outs of life, we develop connectors to link with the timeline of events stored in the recesses of our brain.
On Saturday, Sept. 29, Mom, Daddy and I were in Mississippi Memorial Stadium looking on as Coach Johnny Vaught’s Ole Miss Rebels beat the Kentucky, 16-0.
Those were the days of the original 12-member Southeastern Conference — before Georgia Tech left in 1964 and Tulane in 1966.
Those outings to Jackson to watch college football games were special, even though I seldom got to see my beloved Mississippi State Bulldogs for a couple of reasons — Daddy was a die-hard Ole Miss fan and the tickets were given to us by his boss, who was a die-hard Alabama fan who bought Ole Miss season tickets. Go figure!
But they were special outings, because it was not something we did very often and, when we did, it meant a trip to Pop Bailey’s Restaurant. Pop Bailey’s was located in the downstairs (underground) portion of the huge Mississippi Farmer’s Market complex, across the street from the football stadium, and Daddy would park there and we would walk to the stadium.
I was an adult before I cared (or knew) that Pop Bailey’s had anything other than what I thought to be the best hamburgers in the world.
That Saturday night was a pleasant one in Central Mississippi. A huge renovation had just been completed at the stadium, converting it from a steel and wood structure that seated about 29,000 to a modern concrete structure seating 46,000.
It was even equipped with the stadium feature of the day — a message scroll on the scoreboard.
That scroll would be used at halftime to show the words to the new state song, “Go, Mississippi,” as Ole Miss led 9-0.
While we sang the new state song, other things were in motion.
Gov. Ross Barnett spoke at halftime — certainly an unusual occurrence, but it was an unusual time. Barnett had been in talks with President John F. Kennedy and attorney general Robert Kennedy all week about the planned integration of the University of Mississippi and the building rage in the state had missed this 12-year-old, mostly because of a mother who didn’t know how to hate and a father, despite knowing and using most of the world’s four-letter words, was not a violent person.
At some point in the halftime — not during the song because I remember that — Barnett walked to midfield in the circle of a spotlight.
As documented on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Barnett raised his right fist. “I loooooove Mississippi!” he yells.
“The crowd roars. Even the moderates in the crowd feel chills. The flag waving grows frantic. …
“Barnett looks out at them and feels the emotions, too.
“I looooooove her people!”
The roar gets louder.
“I loooooove her customs!”
“The yelling and screaming drowns him out, and Barnett doesn’t say another word. He doesn’t have to. He stands at midfield, soaking up the love and adulation, a wide grin spread across his face.”
It has been said that very moment is when Barnett decided the University of Mississippi would not be integrated.
I remember a fan with a transistor radio behind us in the stands and I remember hearing the radio announcer say something along the lines that “federal marshals have invaded the Ole Miss campus.”
About that time, I remember the stands starting to empty as people began heading to the exits.
We stayed. After all, Daddy thought Vaught walked on water and he wasn’t going to walk out on his beloved Rebels. We watched them score another touchdown, heard the Rebel band play “Dixie” and ate another hamburger at Pop Bailey’s before heading up U.S. Highway 49 to our home outside Louise.
Before the weekend was over, the Ole Miss campus — a truly beautiful campus — was a battleground with federal marshals and thousands of National Guardsmen. Cars were burned and people were killed.
I remember hearing Mom and Dad talk about some people in Louise — they called them white trash — who were have said to have loaded guns under the back seat of their automobile and taken off to Oxford to defend the “honor” of their state.
That story was never substantiated, but it hung around for years.
That Monday — 50 years ago this week — James Meredith was enrolled at the University of Mississippi.
I’ve heard people ask why we observe such events as the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the 50th anniversary of integration in the Deep South and it is the very same reason we observe the bicentennial of our nation or the 50th anniversary of our parents … it is history … it is OUR history. Generations must be reminded of our history and revisionists should not be allowed to rewrite it.
It is what it is and it is ours.
We should remember our past, however distasteful, for that reason penned by George Santayana, if no other: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
(John H. Walker is editor and publisher of The Daily Southerner and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 823-3106.)