Editor’s Note: The following article by HottyToddy.com contributor John Cofield has appeared in the Jackson Clarion Ledger and other publications, but John says he would rather see his heart-felt piece about Oxford’s illustrious history posted here than in the New York Times. We felt this week, with students returning, was a good time to feature this loving memorial to the Lyceum and Ole Miss.
William Faulkner wrote it, Joseph Pulitzer and Alfred Nobel confirmed it, “…the center, the focus, the hub…,” is universal and we southern humans take comfort in the presence of the great structures, built by our forefathers, that anchored our childhoods, defined our pride of citizenship and have always commanded our respect. Every Ole Miss Rebel who ever lived, when stripped of all we have, finds that our lifelong respect stands, and our dying respect lies, at our core, on the grounds at 34°21’53″N & 89°32’18″W…The Lyceum.
Before the Grove was a grove; before Hemingway, much less Vaught, was born; when the first echoes of the first Hotty Toddy were a hundred years down the road and University Avenue was a wagon-width dirt road.
Young Queen Victoria was on the English throne and “Macbeth,” the opera, premiered in Florence. In the Wild West, Jesse James was born, and later that year in the east, church bells tolled across America when General Scott wired back the glorious news that US forces had captured Mexico City. But the joy of our 1847 was tempered before Christmas when riders brought out word from the Oregon Territory that the Indians had killed 14 white pioneers at Walla Walla. In Washington, D. C., Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis first met each other as freshman Congressman. And just outside of the little town of Oxford, Mississippi, we were building the Lyceum. We have been building a special American history story, brick by brick, from those days forward.
And as to that history, to paint it all Red & Blue is spirited, but not quite the truth. We Rebels are the stewards of a story as rich in heritage as any American tale ever told. And any attempt to add a coating of outsider sugar serves only to hide the raw truth that Ole Miss has been a tightly woven two-stranded rope, of opposite colors, from the intellectual moment of her birth. As gray as we wish it were; as red and blue as we want it to be; it’s clearly Black & White, and too often, mixed with the blues.
Now our only responsibility as stewards is to insure Ole Miss’ history is preserved, intact for the future. But more than anything, it has to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The smoke from any Ole Miss history book burnings may get in our eyes, but the view back over our Rebel shoulders is a clear shot of our Black & White heritage.
It’s as clear as the wealthy white men who built the Lyceum and as black as the slaves who made every brick of the original structure. Clear as Grey & Blue blood running red together down the steps of the Lyceum and as black as the litter bearers stacking Shiloh’s opposing corpses at the infamous Dead House, and burying them together on University grounds. As clear as Governor Barnett’s denial and applicant Meredith’s resolve. Plain as the Lyceum’s 1962 blood stains and bullet holes, and as dark as that October 1st morning we added two more to the list of war dead.
When Ole Miss Rebel James Meredith gripped his diploma, and the hand of Chancellor John D. Williams, and descended that Ole Miss stage into the Grove, his deep breath, long exhale and self-respecting smile appeared on the world stage. Every citizen, on either of those stages, who claimed a personal stake in that chapter of our lives, acknowledged the beginning of the end of a dark time in Ole Miss, Mississippi, American and world history. We all exhaled. It was a bad chapter for all the world to see…but one dark chapter does not a true Ole Miss history book make.
There is an unsung group of Ole Miss heroes who are part of every Rebel’s history, whether you know it or not. Not soldiers or quarterbacks or writers or beauty queens. I’m talking about an aging group of men and women living in Oxford today. They were once young, fresh professors who’d started their careers at the University of Mississippi and made their homes in Oxford. And when the struggle of the American Civil Rights Movement could be seen from their office windows and heard from their front porches; while good friends emptied their desks, and promising students emptied their dorms…they stayed. I’m reminded of men like Ed Meek, who hit the campus ground running, as eager freshmen. And before he and his class had graduated, they had written international news stories, known Nobel Laureates, Miss Americas and Civil Rights leaders. And Ed was there the night he and Ole Miss hit the Lyceum grounds, running for their lives.
It is among these great Rebels that you’ll learn what the history books can’t convey. That the smoke from ’62 didn’t fully clear until that dark American decade finally closed. Through it all, these Rebels taught Ole Miss’ young minds and defended the University of Mississippi, with equal passion. And when the smoke did clear and we took stock of the fresh 1970’s Ole Miss faces, our two colors were as clear and bright as ever, Black & White. Then wisdom smoothly lifted the two colors and laid them on a soft background of Reb & Blue. Where have you gone Porter Fortune? Your Rebel legacy lives on every time two or more of us gather to celebrate our modern day Ole Miss Family.
A family as black as Colonel Rebel Ben Williams with white Miss Ole Miss, Barbara Biggs, smiling together for the camera. As happy as Leigh Anne on her tiptoes, hugging Michael’s neck. It’s as warm as Frank Everett’s “mood, emotion and personality.” It’s as hard, and as soft, as William Brewer wept for Roy Mullins. And if any Rebels were blindsided by anything, it was Hollywood’s academy award-winning story about the love of the Ole Miss family. A feel-good story for all the world to see…but one glad chapter does not a true Ole Miss history book make.
So as scholars the world over, search, research, and long for, and dig in the dirt for, and die for the truth of history, I refuse to believe that any Rebel…remembering the day you knew you would love Ole Miss forever…wants to now enter their hearts and deny any part of us. Which brick do we pull from the Lyceum first? Which corner stone can be safely removed from our foundation? The Ole Miss Engineering Department teaches that the loss of any one damages the integrity of the whole. The Ole Miss History Department bases its integrity on the whole. Our true heritage is lore, and our lore is our lure.
That the Lyceum was still standing, after Oxford’s defiance, was unlikely. In the center of the old grounds of historic Saint Peter’s cemetery, inside the stately circle of cedars, you’ll find the Thompson family of Oxford. But in 1862, when Generals Grant and Sherman couldn’t find the Thompson family, they left a few smoky ruins, and Oxford knew the war had come to call. Yet, the little town remained defiant in the face of Gettysburg, then Vicksburg. Then Oxford’s war ended. With the knowledge that the Greys had fallen, and that the University of Mississippi was no more, save the abandoned Lyceum, we mourned. And then, Union troops came back and burned Oxford to the ground. Only the bravery of the dead Greys, already Civil War battle lore, and the knowledge that southern women had comforted dying northerner boys within her walls, saved the Lyceum.
At dawn on that hot August ’64 morning-after, with the boys gone, the town decimated, their wives and children hidden out in the county, and their homes finally, mercifully burning themselves out, a group of Oxford town fathers gathered at Cumberland Church. It was decided a small party should ride out to see if anything remained of the College grounds. As the men rode toward the Lyceum, they searched for smoke through the gap in the trees in the western sky. The road widened out as they passed onto the campus proper. They galloped on faster, and soon knew that the white and black pillars in the distance were tree trunks and columns. The Lyceum’s place in our shared Oxford and Ole Miss heritage, began that very hour.
her·it·age – Valued objects and qualities such as cultural traditions, unspoiled countryside, and historic buildings that have been passed down from previous generations: the richness of our diverse cultural heritage; a sense of history and heritage.
The richness of our diverse cultural heritage. The Red & Blue ties that bind. Binds all Rebels, one to another. Binds our shared history, that two-stranded, opposite-colored lead wire, that has anchored Ole Miss through every one of her 166 years, in sickness and in health. And, as to our heritage, when history meets the heart, it is born.
Johnny Vaught coached white boys to six SEC and three National championships. Ole Miss math professor, L. Q. C. Lamar, resigned from the U.S. Congress, rode home to Oxford and wrote the state’s Ordinance of Secession. William Faulkner, Ole Miss SAE, 1919, wrote about raw racial Lafayette County, and the King of Sweden presented him the 1949 Nobel Prize. Only one member of the Class of 1861 ever returned to see the Lyceum grounds again. James Meredith led, and won, the nation’s 1962 struggle for civil rights, onto the grounds of the Lyceum. Chucky Mullins left his life on Hollingsworth Field.
“Hell Yes, Damn Right!”, that is our Ole Miss heritage. And to these mens’ lives, who were so close to Ole Miss’ heart, a Rebel generation was moved to immortalize them. Heritage places monuments, and you’ll find these men where they left their mark on Ole Miss and American history.
Johnny Vaught and Chucky Mullins are where they belong, on the grounds of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Hollingsworth Field, representing the two Ole Miss football eras they defined. Chucky never saw “Coach” turn on Hemingway’s sideline and yell, “Mullins, get in there!” In his 25 years as the father of Ole Miss football, our Rebel hearts had known more thrills of victory, than agonies of defeat. But, when Chucky went down, struggled to survive, fought the good fight, lived out his days at his Oxford home, and died, the hearts of Coach Vaught’s era and Chancellor Fortune’s modern day Ole Miss family, ached together as one. And it always will.
John Kennedy, in his Profiles In Courage, further immortalized only eight leaders. Among his eight, one finds eager Ole Miss professor, L. Q. C. Lamar. When the students heard the call to arms, young Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus left with them. He penned his and Mississippi’s farewell, and rode off to command troops in battle. Cited three times for bravery under fire, Lamar lived to see the Lyceum again. But, left both his brothers and both his law partners, in the field. Later, as the first Confederate Officer accepted back in Congress; when called upon to eulogize his one-time political enemy, fiery Massachusetts abolitionist Charles Sumner, a packed U.S. House of Representatives was stunned as Lamar, in the name of the departed Sumner, spoke about the need for unity between North and South. The Mississippi statesman’s words reduced grown men to tears. He closed his speech with this sentence: “My countrymen! Know one another, and you will love one another.” Oxford renamed the town’s main street for Lamar and his likeness stands at his Oxford home.
Beckwith’s Faulkner is where he belongs. Not at Rowan Oak nor at Ole Miss. Not in New Albany nor in Virginia. Whether they appreciated him then, or now, or not; whether Mr. Bill could have given a damn, then, or now, or not, he is immortalized at “…the center, the focus, the hub…,” on our Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha County Courthouse Square.
The lone member of the University of Mississippi Class of 1861, who came back to walk on the Lyceum’s grounds; and the lone Rebel who dared to come forward and walk on the Lyceum’s grounds, are where they belong. Their places in Ole Miss’ heritage was sealed the very hour they stepped on those grounds, one for the first time, one for the last. They stand shoulder to shoulder, on either side of the Lyceum, representing where we came from, and just how far we have come. One Rebel is at rest and one Rebel will forever march forward. Both men were students at the University of Mississippi, who fought, and feared for their lives, through the two separate, but equally most turbulent decades in American and Ole Miss history.
There will never be another century in our Ole Miss history like the early 1860’s to the early 1960’s. That 100 years or so began and ended, with these two students embroiled in the life and death struggle of their times. I believe it is wholly appropriate that they are both immortalized, on the grounds of the Lyceum.
Hotty Toddy to the Lyceum, to an American National Historic Landmark, to Ole Miss’ heart. Where every Monday morning at 8 a.m., the Chancellor’s secretary pulls out a fresh piece of paper, and a new page in our shared history begins. And I find it wholly appropriate that in late afternoon, as the day’s page turns, the lone soldier is in the shadows of the Lyceum and the last rays of the day shine on James Meredith, marching forward.
Calling all Rebels…freshman to senior citizen, you know who you are. When spring blooms on Princeton’s “Most Beautiful Campus,” go there. In the afternoon, not long before the Chancellor’s secretary puts her pen away, enter into the Grove on the Walk of Champions. Take your time. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to recapture the magic of walking across campus after last class on Friday. Approaching Ventress, give the grand old lady, a National Historic Landmark in her own right, a tip of the hat. Coming around, look up at the east-facing lone stone soldier. The Greys rode off campus, heading east, and never returned, save this one. See there inscribed below, from Herodotus, in Greek—
“Go, stranger, and to Sparta tell, that here, obeying her commands, we fell.”
As you turn from our memorial to the University of Mississippi Class of 1861, a silent acknowledgement is all that is needed. Look to the center of the Circle. Although it hasn’t been the center of it all, it has seen it all. And for Rebels, it feels like you’re stepping through a special place. Walking around our flag, turn yourself in the sidewalk and look straight at the six columns. If you don’t feel something, you aren’t a Rebel.
Every once in awhile in life, there is a chance to touch museum pieces. The bricks and mortar of the Lyceum are just that. Opening the heavy doors and passing through the T of the Lyceum can’t be described here. The heart beat you think you hear? It’s imagined and it’s real; and both yours. Walking out into the afternoon sunshine, step toward the John D. Williams Library. When you get to the turn, look straight back at those six columns, shining in the sun. If you can’t feel it, you aren’t a Rebel.
Having seen and remembered our past, having walked through the heart of our present, and having seen the sunshine on the Lyceum’s columns, walk straight toward James Meredith, our future. The artist’s talent shines in equal parts as bravery, resolve and a quiet dignity walk toward you. Circle our monument to what one Rebel can do. Read there inscribed above: “Opportunity, Courage, Perseverance, Knowledge.” Take your time. Our bright, shared future will shine clear to you. If you can’t see it, you aren’t a Rebel.
Whether you feel it wholly appropriate to touch our heritage and living history, from the east or west side, beside either sets of front doors, lay your hand on one of our bricks. And there is our shared Black & White heritage. As clear as the wealthy white men who built the Lyceum and as black as the slave who touched your brick last. It’s as real as William Faulkner, James Meredith, John Vaught, Roy Lee Mullins and L. Q. C, Lamar. As hard, and as soft, as Billy cried for Chucky. As black as our darkest days and as clear as the road ahead. We are Ole Miss.
Nothing is for free. It never was and it never will be. So next fall, as you stand shoulder to shoulder in the Grove, and we all celebrate Porter’s Ole Miss family, remember the road to here. Honor it, cherish it, nurture it and hold it dear. William, Roy, Lucius, John, James and that lone soldier…they earned it for us. The time these men’s lives were spent on the Lyceum’s grounds has created who we are. They will live forever in our collective memories, and define us. They are Ole Miss.
Let us not scar our heritage anymore. The cuts earned building it are already to the bone.
Every Ole Miss Rebel—past, present and future—to walk onto those hallowed, living, breathing grounds must know, surely they will know, our lure is our lore. And if you feel that in your heart…then you’re a Rebel. And, lest you forget… –John Cofield
*Many thanks to Cynthia Floyd Moore for all her help in writing and editing this story. Also, thanks to Ed Meek, Gerald Walton, Jamie Henderson, Patricia Neely-Dorsey and Carey Fortune. To my brother, Glenn, who gives me the core ideas, thanks Brother.
Courtesy of John Cofield, a hottytoddy.com writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer Jack Cofield. His grandfather, “Col.” J. R. Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was Ole Miss yearbook photographer. Cofield attended Ole Miss as well. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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