ESPN aired "Ghosts of Ole Miss" on Wednesday night, the latest offering in their weekly run of sports-based documentaries. This episode delivers a heavy mix of emotions as it explores race relations and football in Mississippi 50 years ago.
This 30 for 30 segment covers the dichotomy of the ultimate success on a college football field with one of the worst displays of civil unrest ever witnessed on a U.S. campus.
The original story was given life by Wright Thompson, who attempts to deal with the troubled past of the state he loves. He also wrestles with the role his ancestors might have played in the racism that led to riots following the 1962 integration at Mississippi.
Director Fritz Mitchell helps the viewer explore a central theme in the documentary. "What is the cost of knowing our past, and what is the cost of not?"
James Meredith is the central protagonist in the documentary. He was the first African-American student to attend Ole Miss, along with the first minority on the school's football team.
Getting there wasn't easy, as his original acceptance was declined after the registrar learned his race. A federal court ordered he be admitted, at which time Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett got involved and blocked his entrance to the office.
Barnett swore no school would be integrated in Mississippi so long as he was governor.
Meredith was simply a young man and Air Force veteran that wanted what most of us take for granted—an education and a right to participate in a sport.
I actually felt that the weight of the world, correct in all the wrong, was my personal responsibility. - James Meredith #GhostsofOleMiss— 30 for 30 (@30for30) October 31, 2012
Thompson prepared a description of the film for ESPN. One of the more interesting comments were his hopes for Mitchell's documentary.
If you are not from the South, I hope you watch this and realize how far my state has come, what incredible changes have been realized in the past 50 years. If you are from the South, I hope you watch and realize how far we have left to travel.
Those comments are quite reminiscent of a conversation I had at the National Civil Rights Museum several years ago. Looking at our past from a modern perspective is incredibly unsettling, but a great reminder of the inequalities that have been pervasive in American society...and that continue today.
The beauty behind Ghosts of Ole Miss is it centers around a topic that will draw a broad range of interest. The story of an undefeated football season, mixed with the tension of integration, is a compelling backdrop.
The episode includes interviews with former players and students at Ole Miss. There's also audio of phone conversations between President Kennedy and the Governor of Mississippi.
This humbling look at American history shouldn't be missed. There's the tragedy of the riot, the response to bring civility back to campus and the role the football program played to foster the healing process.
The 30 for 30 series has offered some great episodes, but Ghosts of Ole Miss makes the top of my "must see" list.
Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks.
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