We visited the University of Mississippi in Oxford on Monday. We heard Dr. Susan Glisson from their Institute for Racial Reconciliation. She’s been there since 1996, I think, when the Institute was founded. She used the phrase “rhetorical space,” which Emily Hinkle really liked. Emily’s going to start requiring that people not invade her rhetorical space.
We learned about James Meredith, the first African-American to attend University of Mississippi.
We visited the library archives afterward, where Ms. Jennifer Ford gave us a presentation on what the archives do. She had pulled some interesting documents for us to look as, including KKK pamphlets, sermons given by white pastors after the 1962 riot that accompanied James Meredith’s enrollment in the university, NAACP posters, and essay contest brochures from the local White Citizens’ Council.
We also talked with Dr. Cole, a university provost, and heard his story of attending the university just a few years after Meredith did.
The White Citizens’ Counsels were like a nice version of the KKK. They didn’t murder or terrorize people, but they used social and economic pressure to keep separation and segregation going strong.
One of the essay contest pamphlets had a copy of the last year’s (1960-61’s?) winning essay. It was an eye-opener, to say the least.
The prompt was something along the lines of “Why should the races stay separated?” I only read about a third of the essay, but it was enough to see that the winning kid used arguments from the Bible and from history to justify segregation. I’m sure he probably used pseudo-science at some point, too. In his understanding, Ham, the cursed son of Noah, was the forefather of all black people. Therefore, black people were condemned by scripture to servitude. It’s highly improbable that this kid came up with this argument out of his own brilliance. No. These ideas were being taught in his church and at home. His pastor told him that people with darker skin were natural servants.
His second argument was based on world history. The Greeks were a great civilization until they started mixing with the barbaric cultures around them, he wrote. Before, they led the world in art, learning, government… everything. Integration ended a great civilization.
In small group today, we went on a major tangent, but one that is still relevant to civil rights. We talked about how the Bible was used to bolster arguments for slavery, and later to justify the separation of the races. Today we look with shame on how scripture was twisted to fit an agenda that discriminated against a group of people. We pondered whether the American church will someday look with shame on how the Bible was used to deny rights to homosexual couples.
Our group had very mixed feelings about the issue; most of us are internally conflicted about it and don’t really know which side we stand on.
On the one hand, it’s unfair to deny a population the right to get married. If they’re living like married people, why shouldn’t they get the same tax breaks heterosexual couples do? On the other hand, if gay marriage is allowed, the next can of worms would be adoption.
There’s also the difficulty of navigating the command to love while, at the same time, staying true to the doctrine of the church. The church condemns homosexual acts. If a member consistently disobeys that teaching, should the church ask them to leave the community? The tradition of church discipline says - yes, the member who knowingly continues in sin must leave. But the rest of society finds this concept intolerant and intolerable.