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"We've come a long way, but we still have a ways to go."

Austin Mcafee

The University of Mississippi and Oxford communities had the opportunity to hear U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speak last night at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
Holder, who spoke for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College fall convocation, discussed the progress integration has made and the journey still ahead. Chancellor Dan Jones also spoke, highlighting the state’s past and the university’s approach to 50 years of integration.
“This is a remarkable time for our university,” Jones said.
Jones said in the midst of the university’s celebration, we are also “commemorating the tragic events” that occurred because of the admission of James Meredith.
“His heroic actions changed our university, our state and our nation,” he said.
Jones added that even 50 years later, “Injustice still exists in the world today.”
“We still live in an imperfect world,” he said. “This university, state and country have not arrived at the place we need to be.”
Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the honors college, showed gratitude for two Ole Miss alumni who made the night possible: Janie Barnett and Ralph Eubanks.
“Their dedication of their alma mater stands as a plum line for all of us,” he said.
Sullivan-Gonzalez also recognized the presence and commitment of the elected officials in the audience. He called for a pause to “reflect on this incredible historic event.”
“Who in 1962 could’ve imagined such a great moment as this one we celebrate tonight,” he said.
When Eric Holder approached the podium, he spoke of “the continuing struggle for equal rights, equal opportunities and equal justice.”
Holder found the gathering special with it being only a few blocks from the Lyceum, “where bullet holes from the riots of half a century ago can still be seen.”
Holder took the audience back to September 1962 when Ole Miss became the “focal point of a transformative national struggle.”
“It was a period of difficulty and of danger for those who stood up and spoke out against an unjust status quo,” he said.
Holder said racial discrimination still had a role in society after Meredith’s enrollment on Oct. 1, 1962.
He discussed a similar situation at the University of Alabama, less than a year later, when Gov. George Wallace stood in front of the doors of the university to prevent integration. Federal resources were brought in, again, to assist the enrollment of two African-Americans: James Hood and Vivan Malone.
Holder encouraged the audience to “challenge our nation to aim higher, to become better.”
The speech was followed by a question-and-answer discussion, which included questions submitted by honors college students.
Holder also presented his stance on the Defense of Marriage Act, saying that he cannot support a statute that does not protect the rights of a particular group.
At the end of the discussion, Sullivan-Gonzalez asked, “Why anyone in their right mind would want to be an attorney general?”
Holder replied, saying that even in the midst of partisan opposition, he feels he, like attorneys general before him, has “unequal opportunity” to change things in our nation for the better.
Holder said the U.S. is a nation of enormous potential, proven by the fact that we are a nation with African-Americans, Latinos and openly gay people serving in public offices.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who attended the convocation, has known and spoken with Holder, but has never observed his thought on an issue such as this.
“I hadn’t had a chance to really see his thoughts on an issue,” he said. “That’s kind of outside some (attorney general) issues we have.”
Molly Yates contributed to this report.