The host for the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and
John McCain, the University of Mississippi, is attempting to showcase
the campus that nearly half a century ago drew world attention for a
violent racial conflict. VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Oxford,
When the University of Mississippi began the quest
to host a presidential debate several years ago, a large part of the
reason was to draw attention to a school and a state that many people
still associate with ugly incidents from the civil rights movement of
the 1960's. It was here, in September, 1962, that violence flared after
James Meredith became the first black person to enroll in the state
President John F. Kennedy sent federal marshals to
protect Meredith and they were attacked by a mob of white supremacists.
Two men died in the riot and this university and this town gained a
reputation that lingers 46 years later.
The chancellor of the
university, known popularly as Ole Miss, is Robert Khayat. He says
he wants people around the world to see how this school and this
community have changed for the better.
"I think they will see
a progressive community," said Khayat. "I think they will see a diverse
community. I think they will see a place where respect is a value that
is embraced and lived. I think they will see a university that is out
on the cutting edge in many ways. I think it is a close up look at a
place that has not been looked at in 40 years."
Today 14 percent
of the more than 17,000 students at Ole Miss are black. The overall
percentage of minorities is 19 percent. One of the most prominent
features of the campus is a monument to the civil rights movement with
a statue of James Meredith near the Lyceum, the oldest building on
campus and the focus of the 1962 riot.
As part of the program
surrounding the debate Friday, the university is sponsoring a "Rock the
Vote" party on the campus. In addition to music and other stage events,
there are a number of politically oriented activities taking place.
There are no classes on Friday, but many students are on hand to take
part in the activities.