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Football and Race in Mississippi

There probably hasn’t been as much unbridled celebration in Mississippi as is going on this week since the Secession Day Centennial parade in March 1961. The reason: At the midway point of the college football season, Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) football teams are both undefeated and ranked Number 1 and 2 in the nation in the ESPN Power Rankingsand 1 and 3 in both the Associated Press and coaches’ polls.

The two teams appear jointly on last week’s Sports Illustrated cover.

Why should this occurrence be of interest to people who are not from Mississippi and are not football fans? The answer begins with an admission: The opening sentence above is misleading and inaccurate. It is misleading because Mississippi has come a very long way from the bad old days of the 1960s and before. It is inaccurate because the massive commemoration of secession was, like almost everything else in the state at the time, confined to one race. Today, many blacks are cheering the football success along with whites, which means that it is likely that the current celebration is more widespread than any in the state’s history.

The reason for reference to the 1961 festivity is that it was in that era a half-century ago that–over the strenuous opposition of the state’s majority race–the foundation for what is being applauded today was laid.

 

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