If you don’t pour over the Sunday New York Times’ sports section, you might have missed this glorious story from Samuel Freeman, whose byline can most usually be located above the Times religion column.
But Mr. Freeman has written a book, “Breaking The Line,” about black college football and civil rights and his piece, “A Mississippi Stadium, a Civil Rights Crucible: 1967 Game Between Jackson State and Grambling Made History,” reflects his book’s central story.
I’ve never been a follower of college football and in 1967 was not yet a committed lover of professional football, so I knew nothing about this game and its history. But in the wake of the grand jury’s heart-breaking non-decision in Ferguson, MO, remembering as I do the clangor of the civil rights struggle in the south, and recognizing − as I do − the impossible, ugly racism buried still in this country’s guts, I think everybody should read the entire piece, if only to grasp how hope can actually turn out to be something more than blind.
Mr. Freeman’s article begins:
The night before federal marshals escorted James Meredith onto the campus of the University of Mississippi, where he was trying to become the first black student to enroll, the university’s highly ranked football team faced Kentucky. That game, on Sept. 29, 1962, was played in the state of Mississippi’s largest and most prestigious showcase, Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, the capital.
As soon as the music stopped, the capacity crowd of 43,000 began calling for Barnett. Many waved Confederate flags. The governor obliged, taking the microphone at midfield to declare: “I love Mississippi. I love her people. Our customs. I love and respect our heritage.” The point of his coded language could hardly have been clearer, and the next day the Oxford campus erupted into riots against Meredith that had to be quelled by 3,000 federal troops.