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Myrlie Evers-Williams to help dedicate memorial site Oct. 1

Activist joins day’s events to open yearlong observance of integration’s 40th anniversary

Sep. 12, 2002

By Patsy R. Brumfield
University of Mississippi News Services


Myrlie Evers-Williams

OXFORD, Miss. — Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams comes to the University of Mississippi Oct. 1 to help dedicate the site for a campus memorial and to open a yearlong observance of 40 years of integration.

Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, said she hopes the events will help students better understand the history of the movement and why it is significant in their lives.

“I say to students, take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow. You then have a responsibility to give back to your country,” said the Vicksburg native.

Medgar Evers was gunned down outside his home in Jackson by Byron De La Beckwith in 1963.

Almost a year earlier, on Sept. 30, 1962, violence erupted on UM’s Oxford campus as federal officials accompanied James Meredith, a black man also from Jackson, who was being admitted as a student at the previously all-white university. Two men died, and dozens of citizens and military personnel were wounded in rioting at the scene.

“Among the significant events in the history of our state is the decision to make higher education accessible to all Mississippians. As the oldest public university in Mississippi, it has been our good fortune to lead the way in a number of important areas,” said UM Chancellor Robert Khayat. “Although the events of 1962 are painful and regrettable, we have built on that experience and have incorporated into the culture of Ole Miss the basic value of respect for the dignity of every individual. It is appropriate that this important date in history be highlighted by our community.”

At 3 p.m., the law school honors Williams and her slain husband’s legacy with a presentation and reception. Dedication of the memorial site follows a 5:30 p.m. community dinner and music program on the grounds in the Circle and a ceremonial walk through the historic Lyceum Building.

Other activities launching UM’s observance “Open Doors: Building on 40 Years of Opportunity in Higher Education” include speakers, exhibitions and establishment of an oral history and memorabilia archive. A Student Media Center exhibit in the Union will show today’s students the look of 1962’s campus and students. Open Doors culminates in September 2003 with an international conference on race.

Plans call for the memorial artwork to be erected next spring. Donations of more than $100,000 from friends, faculty and students were raised for the project during the past six years. Two recent gifts are a grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and $35,000 raised by UM fraternity and sorority members.

A model of the memorial is on display in the Student Union. The artwork has been commissioned to noted installation artist Terry Adkins of New York, who won a national competition for the project.

The university and the City of Oxford host a variety of other activities Oct. 1. During a luncheon on the Square downtown, Oxford officials will honor state and other military personnel who came to help quell the civil disorder.

University activities begin at 9 a.m. with a long-term oral history project to capture personal experiences of people who were on the campus during the integration or who were affected by the events. Last month, the university issued public calls for participation in the oral history and for the submission of private materials relating to the integration era.

Numerous persons associated with the historic event are expected on campus to speak in classes or public forums throughout the day. Open Doors also features exhibitions, a walking tour with markers at key campus sites and multicultural activities.

Other upcoming programs complement the observance. The 27th annual Porter L. Fortune Jr. History Symposium is hosted Sept. 25-27 to examine “Race & Sport: The Struggle for Equality On & Off the Field.” The Nov. 12 Silver Em Day, hosted by the UM Journalism Department, brings to campus past recipients of the university’s highest journalism award for public discussions about reporting on the Civil Rights Movement.

For information about UM’s Open Doors activities, contact the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at 662-915-5993 or visit university Web sites www.olemiss.edu/opendoors or www.olemiss.edu/calendar. Oxford’s events are detailed at www.oxfordms.net.


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