Linebacker Serderius Bryant. Defensive end Carlos Thompson. Defensive back Senquez Golson. Defensive back Cody Prewitt. They’re some of the top defensive players in college football right now, leading the University of Mississippi’s no. 1 scoring defense in 2014. But that’s not all they have in common. They’re all black.
If you look at the 120-man roster of today’s Ole Miss Rebels football team, race might not seem like an issue. More than half of the players on the roster have dark skin. But that was not always the case. More than half a century ago, the integration of James Meredith incited riots across the Ole Miss campus.
Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Meredith was the first black man to attend the University of Mississippi in 1962.
“I actually felt the weight of the world,” Meredith said years later, sporting a white beard against his dark skin, “Correcting all that was wrong was my own personal responsibility. If I showed no fear, that would scare the life out of all the people who thought I should be scared.”
That’s what director Fitz Mitchell explores in his ESPN Films documentary “Ghosts of Ole Miss,” part of the “30 for 30″ documentary series. Written and narrated by sports writer Wright Thompson, a Mississippi native who works for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine, “Ghosts of Ole Miss” is partly his own self-discovery story, partly James Meredith’s and partly Ole Miss’ 1962 football team.
1962 was the year their 46-man team won all their games, the first undefeated football team in University of Mississippi’s history. But their wins are overshadowed by an ugly history with deep roots in racism. Their team and their games weren’t desegregated.
“There’s no black fans in the stadium,” says Thompson. “And on nights like these, it’s easy to forget that the South lost the war.”
“It was a crowd in a state of delirium,” adds William Doyle, author of “An American Insurrection.” “It wasn’t about football anymore. It was about fighting. It was about victory. It was about keeping blacks stripped of all their rights and it was about a Confederacy living forever.”
Although it’s been more than 50 years since the University of Mississippi admitted its first black student, there’s still an undercoat of racism.
“Ole Miss is still affected by the James Meredith integration to this day,” says director Fitz Mitchell. “They still carry the scars from that season.”
Communications specialist Kitty Dumas recounted her encounters with racial slurs during her years at Ole Miss in the 1980s. Former student body president Kimberly Dandridge (class of 2013) also remembers being harassed during her undergraduate years. And there’s no shortage of bad press.
1962 is the year of race riots and tear gas. 2014 — the year Meredith’s statue was vandalized with a Confederate flag.
Despite all these “ghosts,” Ole Miss also has linebacker Serderius Bryant, defensive end Carlos Thompson, defensive back Senquez Golson and defensive back Cody Prewitt — some of college football’s leading defensive players and symbols of progress.
“Ghosts of Ole Miss” was directed by Fitz Mitchell and written by Wright Thompson as part of ESPN’s “30 for 30″ documentary series. To read more film reviews, visit Liu’s blog at: https://passthepopcornreviews.wordpress.com
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