Two 50th anniversaries this year really hit home for me.
“I love Mississippi.” Those words and others from then Governor Ross Barnett at an Ole Miss football game in Jackson, MS, on Saturday, September 29, 1962, the day before James Meredith integrated the University were said to spark the riots on the night of Sunday, September 30.
As the 50th anniversary of that monumental event approaches, I was reminded of the 50th anniversary of the death of William Faulkner, Mississippi’s most famous author, when I received a poster announcing “The University of Mississippi Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference” in Oxford, MS, July 7-11, 2012. That brought to mind what William Faulkner once wrote about his home state: “Loving all of it even while he had to hate some of it because he knows now that you don’t love because: you love despite; not for the virtues, but despite the faults.”
Oh, how those words ring true for me. I love Mississippi, yes, for the wonderful summer days spent with my cousins in northeast Mississippi where my great grandfather and Faulkner’s grandfather were good friends. I fondly recall jumping off the trestle tracks into the creek without then knowing the history of Colonel Faulkner giving my grandparents their wedding trip on a train over those same tracks.
And I love Mississippi for the closeness of many of those cousins and the friends I made at Ole Miss. I love Mississippi for the people I’ve met on return trips to the university and to other parts of the state. I love Mississippi for the food, the music, the writings, the shared jokes and the tall tales of my adopted state.
But perhaps most of all I love Mississippi despite . . . .
Despite the difficult times as editor of the Daily Mississippian when James Meredith integrated the all-white university.
Despite the riots at Ole Miss, causing the death of two men and dissention among students and faculty.
Despite the challenges of trying to graduate, attend classes and continue to write editorials urging students not to riot or disrupt the daily lives of others.
Despite worrying if those editorials would affect my father’s business, most of which was in Mississippi.
Despite having an uncle publicly disown me in the hometown of my relatives.
Despite having a fraternity circulate petitions to impeach me as editor of the student newspaper.
Despite my parents receiving nasty, sometimes threatening, phone calls.
Despite being spit upon by some fellow students who disagreed with me.
Despite finding out that some people who I believed were friends turned on me for political purposes.
Yes, I love Mississippi despite and because!
Despite the Campus Senate passing a resolution in 1962 to censure me, as editor, citing that I “failed in a time of grave crisis to represent and uphold the rights of her fellow students.”
And I love Mississippi because 40 years later the Associated Student Body Senate passed a resolution repealing that censure, stating that “Miss Brower’s editorials deplored the violence of the riots rather than assigning blame and Miss Brower showed commendable poise under unprecedented pressure.”
With the 50th anniversary of Faulkner’s death passing and the 50th anniversary of the integration of Ole Miss approaching, I celebrate the progress, what we’ve learned over the years and the joys of a wonderful place not only physically but also in my heart.