I love hearing about campus unrest whose ultimate goal is bringing about a better America. It brings to mind days gone by - very good days.
Back in 1962 a young, black Air Force veteran by the name of James Meredith managed to break the color barrier at one of the south's most segregated institutions - the University of Mississippi. Now, more than half a century later, the campus of Ole Miss is still predominantly white (77%), and many of the old racist attitudes of the Jim Crow era still persist on and around the campus. (A few years ago, in fact, someone at Ole Miss draped a noose over the neck of a statue of Mr. Meredith that stands on the hallowed old campus.)
Yesterday there was a profile of a current Ole Miss student in the New York Times that shined a light on some of the racial unrest that still persists on campus. The student, a white junior by the name of Allen Coon, is a Mississippi native who chose to come to Ole Miss with the express intent of shaking things up on campus. Mr. Coon has proven to be very successful at meeting that goal.
Allen Coon is recognized as an effective campus organizer, and his efforts to address racial injustices on campus have earned him the respect of much of the black community at the university. As an elected member of the student senate, he drafted a resolution which ultimately led to the state flag of Mississippi (which bears a Confederate battle flag in the upper left corner) being removed from the campus. Coon's involvement in the removal of the state flag earned him both respect and enmity of his fellow students, and much negative reaction in the surrounding community.
Ole Miss had two "die-in" demonstrations in 2015 to protest police violence - and particularly police violence toward blacks. Both demonstrations were organized by Allen Coon. He also initiated efforts to make Ole Miss a "sanctuary campus," one that would offer a safe refuge to illegal immigrants.
Allen Coon, whose last name doubles as a racial slur, describes himself as someone who thinks obsessively about race. His best friends in high school were a pair of young black men. The three referred to themselves as "Coon and Friends," with the joke being who was the "coon" and who were the "friends." His girlfriend at Ole Miss is black, and one thing that Allen Coon worries about is if they marry and have children, should he saddle his bi-racial offspring with his unfortunate last name.
The Times article illuminated the influences that helped to shape Allen Coon into the young liberal activist that he is today - things like his friends, the Travon Martin and Michael Brown deaths, Stephen Colbert, and pop music artists - a variety of things that were all coming together at the exact same time America was experiencing the Trump invasion of its political landscape. The result was the emergence of a force for good germinating in what some would see as a racist backwater.
Allen Coon, and hopefully many others with his idealistic determination, will be at the ready to balance out the moral outrages of the Trump administration, just as Tom Hayden, and Jerry Rubin, and Abbie Hoffman, and a whole host of other young people stepped forward to challenge LBJ and his mindless pursuit of war in Vietnam. The Chicago Seven had their time in the sun, and now Coon and Friends will hopefully have theirs.
America is a diverse nation, and in that diversity is strength.