Letter to the Editor: The administration must act swiftly to distance itself from such bias

Posted on Sep 27 2018 - 5:50am by Lee Freeland Hancock

To the Editors,

I’m impressed by the courage of the DM staff, the journalism faculty, and I am even more awed at the bravery of senior Mahoghany Jordan in calling out Dr. Meek for targeting her and her friend and fellow student in a racist social media post.

Though I was disappointed and saddened by Dr. Meek’s post, I was unsurprised. Full disclosure: Dr. Meek is a family friend who encouraged me to study in the journalism program. Also full disclosure: Once I enrolled, I saw first-hand how Dr. Meek responded to racially-charged incidents as the university’s chief spokesman. After John Hawkins was elected the first black cheerleader and refused to wave the Confederate flag at football games, a year of controversy ensued. It culminated with a near-riot by white frat boys, which I covered for the DM and The Clarion-Ledger. I will never forget watching, horrified, as more than 1,000 white students raged in front of the Lyceum, many of them yelling racial slurs. They roamed the campus hunting for Mr. Hawkins and ended up blocking the highway the front of the black fraternity house where Mr. Hawkins was a member. Fortunately, the mob dispersed without ever finding Mr. Hawkins, no thanks to university officials or cops.

I will never forget Dr. Meek telling me and other reporters that night that the incident amounted to “a spirited pep rally.” Dr. Meek also called a senior editor at the Clarion-Ledger who was an Ole Miss alum that night and convinced him to bury the story. The next morning, a truncated story on the near-riot ran in the grocery ads in Jackson, but it was front page news in the Memphis paper and drew the national media to Oxford in force. (See: https://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/03/us/ole-miss-heeds-a-call-by-blacks-to-furl-rebel-flag.html ). Even then, it took a faculty resolution to persuade the reluctant administration to formally begin the long process of distancing the school from the flag.

If the University of Mississippi is to live up to its claim of being a great public institution of higher learning, there can be no more excusing or overlooking racism in all its forms — no matter who the offender or how big their donation might be. The administration must act swiftly and decisively to distance itself from such bias. I am grateful to the students and faculty who are demanding better of Ole Miss.

Lee Freeland Hancock

DM Managing Editor, Spring 1983