"The Perfect Day in Oxford, Mississippi" (CNN, 2017)
I've lived in Oxford, Mississippi often enough, and for long enough, to know what's what—to know some of the things that you might want to do should you find yourself in town for a football game, or an academic conference, or for whatever reason you might find yourself in town. When I was asked to write about Oxford for Explore Parts Unknown, I tried to put that knowledge to use.
Living in Oxford, Mississippi often and long also means knowing that for folks like me, ain't no such thing as a "perfect day." I try to deal with that a little bit here too.
Here's a selected Excerpt:
"I wonder what the trees would say, swaying and weeping with a welcome summer breeze.
I am sitting on a picnic table at the Grove, a multiacre expanse of trees and green space that has become synonymous with campus life at the University of Mississippi. Five or six times a year, for each of the university’s home football games, the Grove transforms from still and majestic to festival and bizarre. Thousands of tailgaters descend on the space, lounging under lavishly outfitted tents, milling and meddling with spirits in hand.
Two squirrels play tag, unconcerned with the trees and children who laugh and run with energy.
And yet I still wonder what the trees would say if they could tell the history of this place—the Grove, the university. Would they remember the 135 students who in 1861 enlisted to fight in the Civil War, resulting in the temporary closure of the university? Would they remember 1962, when mobs of angry students and residents and nearly 4,000 state and federal troops pushed the campus into chaos as James Meredith became the first black student to enroll. I wonder, Would the trees mention the house that burned to ruins on Fraternity Row the morning of August 4, 1988, temporarily halting what would’ve marked the first Black Greek-letter organization—the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity—to move onto the Row? Or would the trees keep quiet, swaying and weeping with the breeze?
“This place is so damn beautiful,” an older gentleman waves to me as he walks by.
Few would challenge his claim. After all, the University has been named the “most beautiful college campus” by more than a handful of regional and national press outlets. Yet, amidst the beauty and history, the abundant greens and immaculate trees, there are some enduring challenges. Students, faculty, staff, and interested local residents debate and contest the ongoing presence of Confederate iconography on campus. Student organizations lobby for more campus social and support spaces for students from underrepresented backgrounds. And some faculty of color find the campus’s racial climate difficult to navigate, ultimately opting to leave for positions at other universities."