PBS’s “Not in Our Town” Documentary Features Ole MissBy Sandra Knispel | Published 13 Feb 2012 09:18am |
Tonight, PBS will air the documentary Not in Our Town, which tells the story of the University of Mississippi’s showing unity in the face of a KKK hate rally on its campus in the fall of 2009. MPB’s Sandra Knispel reports.
Nat sound documentary: “Oxford, Mississippi. Tradition divides a campus community and surfaces old racial tensions. We heard that the Klan was coming. Just hearing that gave me chills. But student leaders find the strength to unify their campus.”
The Ku Klux Klan had been closely monitoring the escalating debate in the fall of 2009 over the chant The South will Rise Again at each Ole Miss football game. On November 21st , the KKK decided to stage a campus rally, the day of the LSU game.
Nat sound documentary: “At the University of Mississippi students are questioning whether traditions tied to the Civil War and segregation continue to belong on their campus. [cheering, music fade out]
What had been a deep division suddenly turned to unity – with the KKK as common adversary. Even LSU fans participated in the protest, booing the Klansmen in their garish red and black satin robes, with hands raised in Hitler salute. Taylor McGraw, now the university’s associated student body president, was one of the students who demonstrated that day. His older brother Jake had been one of the main organizers of the anti-KKK event.
“Yeah, I was fairly confident when I was talking to my brother and hearing from him who[m] all he had reached out to that we were really going to have a strong presence out there," Taylor McGraw recalled. "Just from my experiences on the Ole Miss campus, I mean goodness, I just had a feeling that we were going to come together on this one. And I think we hit a home run.”
At an advance screening of the documentary earlier this month, UM chancellor Dan Jones, who was then in his first term, told the audience he had been expecting racial tensions to flare up sooner or later.
“Race was still an issue in our university. And we weren’t going to be done dealing with tensions around race in our country and our state and particularly in our university for a long time," Jones said.
“When the university came together to deal with the KKK and to organize the counter protest I think that was one of the biggest forms of community that I felt in my entire life," said Toran Dean.
UM Senior Toran Dean who is African American was part of the counter demonstration against the KKK that day.
“When you see an issue that we were so divided over.. I was standing next to people that chanted The South Will Rise Again. But they knew that what the KKK stood for wasn’t right. And they finally realized why those words were hurtful," Toran said. "And I just think it brought us all together. And it made this family all on the same page. And it was just one of the greatest feelings that I think I’ve ever had.”
But, said Susan Glisson, executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss, this is not the time to become complacent.
“The greatest threat to humanity is not dictators or racists. The greatest threat to humanity are people who stand by while evil is done in their name. So when you see something done – whether it’s a joke that is off color or offensive, whether you see somebody being pushed around – and nobody is taking their part – stand up. Because upstanderism is going to defeat bystanderism, which will defeat evil.”
Looking back to 1962 when the enrollment of the first African American, James Meredith, prompted a night of deadly riots on campus, Chancellor Jones told the audience that he still worries about less obvious forms of racism today, 50 years later.
“I’m just amazed that we could behave that way. That we could have laws that prevented anybody other than white people [from] coming to this institution. It just is amazing that it could be. And yet the thing that worries me the most is, you know, what are those other issues now that I’m just as blind about now? What is it that we need to be paying attention to now that 20 years from now, 30 years from now people are going to look back and say ‘What were we thinking?’ “
Again UM senior Toran Dean:
“Whenever you put on a t-shirt that says you’re an Ole Miss Rebel you feel very, very proud. But I think that was the day that I wore that badge of being an Ole Miss Rebel proudest. And it was just such a great feeling. I was so happy to be a part of the University of Mississippi.”
The PBS documentary Not in Our Town airs tonight at 9:30 on MPB Television.
Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Oxford.
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