Saturday, August 18, 2007

August 18, 1963



August 18, 1963, James Meredith gradutated from The University of Mississippi with a degree in History. That doesn't sound very impressive by itself, because plenty of people graduate from Ole Miss. However, James Meredith is black. He was the first Black student to graduate from this former bastion of segregation.

Meredith had applied to the University twice, and was denied admission; eventually accepted, he attempted to enter on September 20, 1962 but was barred from entering. Governor Ross Barnett, a staunch segregationist and alumni of Ole Miss, opposed Meredith's enrollment and riots broke out on campus. President John F. Kennedy sent in US Marshalls to qwell the riots, which killed two and injured hundreds, and on October 1, 1962, James Meredith became the first Black student to enter the bastion of Whites-Only education.

Why is this important today? Why is Meredith's quiet heroism important today? And he doesn't see his actions as heroism, all he wanted was an education - something that ALL US Citizens should desire, but apparently don't. Meredith's actions are important today because they remind me of how far we've slipped away from decency, dignity and acceptance.

This week, Jose Padilla was convicted on all charges in his "terrorism trial." What does this have to do with James Meredith? Really?



When Meredith entered Ole Miss, he was proving TESTING what our Declaration of Independence spells out:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Mr. Padilla's trial proves that we need to keep our Constitution and return to a real rule of law. Waging a "war on terror" does not require giving up our rights under the Constitution and substituting Constitutional Law with Military Law, which, under this administration, is not law at all.

Padilla, a US Citizen, was arrested in May 2002 in Chicago under a warrant to testify before a Grand Jury. He was held in civillian custody for a month, but on the eve of his hearing in Federal Court, President Bush decided he was an "enemy combatant" and Padilla was whisked off to a military cell in South Carolina. Then-US Attorney General John Ashcroft said that Padilla was part of a terrorist plot to set of a "dirty bomb" in a US city.

Shades of Snidely Whiplash.
For nearly two years, Jose Padilla was denied all access to his lawyers, his family and the court system. The Bush administration claimed that he could be held without trial until the end of its "war on terror."

The war on terror is endless. It is a war on an idea, and an idea whose sole goal is to keep people terrified. Padilla was tortured. He was deprived of sleep. He was subjected to extreme temperatures. He was kept in stress positions. He was held without human contact; without natural light; without a clock - complete sensory deprivation.

I'm not going to list the details of the Padilla case - other bloggers have done so, and done it well. No. What sickens me is how we, as a nation, have gone so completely backward since James Meredith gradutated, with dignity, from Ole Miss and gave that University some measure of dignity with his presence. Meredith broke down a wall of fear. And since September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration has rebuilt that wall bigger, higher, thicker, and with mortar made from the poison of hate.

Jose Padilla and James Meredith are worlds apart. Padilla was a small-time thug, a petty criminal who has become an important symbol of how our government uses fear as a weapon. James Meredith is a writer, an educator, and an example of good. But does that mean Padilla should be stripped of his rights as a US Citizen? Not at all. Not at all.

Padilla did not set out to be a hero, nor is he. The heroes in his case are the attornies who worked on his behalf, and, ultimately, on my behalf and yours attempting to keep our Constitution out of the shredder. We are not out of the woods by any means. Our President is making noises to justify his desire to invade Iran; I still fear an "October Surprise" in 2008 which will let him invoke Martial Law, suspend elections and declare himself President for Life - after all, the "war on terror" is endless if you are in charge of it.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said after the attack on Pearl Harbor "The only thing to fear is fear itself." How the Bush administration has twisted that - because this administration has created so much fear in order to keep people afraid.

In one of the Harry Potter books, the Wizard Students are learning about "boggarts", dark magic creatures that are our deepest fears. The way to combat a boggart is the charm "Ridiculos" - so, to Bush, Cheney, and all their cohorts, I say to you "RIDICULOS" - you are ridiculous. No, I will not cave in to your example of fear and hate. I choose to follow the example of James Meredith. I choose dignity.

cross posted at The Sirens Chronicles

10 comments:

Mentarch said...

*Superb* post! Not much to add - it's all there already! ;-)

The Future Was Yesterday said...

Excellent work!! I don't know as "we" have made such strides backwards, so much as "we" have allowed those few who wished society to go backwards, to work their poisen. It's called apathy, and it's been the number one voter for a long time.

ThomasLB said...

Excellent post!

The one attack that those in power can not withstand is people pointing and going, "Ha ha!"

Pursey Tuttweiler said...

Tremendous reminder. Gravel was debating today, and he really moved me with his message. He started preaching love and loving one another. He said that love implements courage and courage implements virtue, but it all has to began with human beings starting to love their fellow man. Then Kucinich quoted Matthew 25: What you do to the least of my brethen you do to me. Then Gravel started saying that our children need to be provided with education from grade school all the way to the PhD level. It was good to hear men speaking like this. It is hard to believe that during my lifetime a black man was not allowed to enroll in a college. We need the strength to advance further. We are not there yet. Like Gravel said, love and courage will arm us with the tools we need to make change. Love of one another. Meredith must have felt loved. He had courage.

Kvatch said...

My father was teaching at Ole Miss when James Meredith entered the university (about 18 months before I was born). He and a small group of other professors were known to be advocates of integration at Mississippi and other universities in the South. Eventually, our family was forced to leave Oxford due to threats and harassment that continued even after Meredith graduated.

A sad, yet triumphant, time in our history.

Granny said...

I'm old enough to remember when James Meredith enrolled.

Wonderful post.

Donnie McDaniel said...

If the neocons could get their way, they would throw us back into the dark ages. If he knew he cold get away with it, dubya would make an executive order for a witch hunt. I'm suprised he hasn't tried to bring beheadings back.

Envirocat said...

Writing about James Meredith and Jose Padilla in the same post is ludicrous. It takes an extremely closed mind to not comprehend that using normal rules of law under the Constitution (that includes the govt's requirement to reveal information sources) compromise those sources from any further use - and that we are at war. Padilla will not be the last person treated in this manner. The fact that no others have since shows the restraint that is inherent in the US judicial system.

DivaJood said...

Envoricat, thank you for your visit. My contention is that Padillia should have been granted his right as a US Citizen to a speedy trial. Do I think he deserved his conviction? Yes I do. He acted as a criminal, and committed a crime. Clearly you and I disagree. Please stop by again.

envirocat said...

Divajood,

Thanks for the reply. My contention is that he was given a speedy trial, given the circumstances. If the government wanted to place him on ice for a bit in order to chase down existing intelligence information, or sweat Padilla for additional information - great.

The facilities that Padilla was held in were not a Gulag. They passed every inspection and were highly acclaimed as a model prison. So what if Padilla was kept in solitary (damn near a requirement given the information he knew), and perhaps the lights were left on a bit longer than usual? That's pretty sweet compared with what the torture chambers replete with video-camera's and machetes for making snuff films like the opposition is using.

We are fighting a war, and the US judicial system needs to remember that.