Flashback to Miss. in 1962, how politics and power ended deadly

Flashback to Miss. in 1962, how politics and power ended deadly
James Meredith at University of Mississippi in 1962 (Source: Courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Wednesday’s vicious attack on the nation’s capital uncovered deep wounds from Mississippi’s dark, segregated past that some say the magnolia state is still healing from.

Four people died in Washington, D.C. after a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to delay or prevent certification of President-elect Joe Biden.

In the end, Biden was confirmed by Congress, but politicians on both sides of the aisle believe the damage was already done, incited by President Donald Trump.

“The logical conclusion to an amoral criminal presidency,” Mississippi Senator David Blount wrote.

“This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the president’s addiction to constantly stoking division,” Nebraska Senator. Ben Sasse said.

Mississippi political giant and Attorney Andy Taggart tweeted about the incredible power politicians have on people.

Taggart tweeted in part, “Here in our state, we saw false leader Ross Barnett work people into a frenzy just as you do, and that led to the tragic deaths of two people in 1962. A leader does not pour gasoline on fire then complain about the fire, and that is exactly what you have done.”

Taggart’s book, Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, is about the quest for power and the use of it to govern people.

Taggart explains two ways Mississippi Governor Ross Barnet used his power to govern people decades ago.

“Instead of leading his state’s citizens to obey the law, Barnett created an environment in which violation of the law was encouraged,” Taggart said. “We know from taped conversations that he had with President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy at the time that Barnett was posturing for his political benefit. At one time he asked whether the federal marshals could draw their weapons to force him to back down, so it would appear that he had no choice. The President, wisely, declined that suggestion.”

In another instance, Taggart said a football game was transformed into a huge political rally after Barnett made a single statement.

“In the lead up to James Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss as its first African American student, Barnett engaged in many efforts to prevent it from happening. Most notoriously, he spoke during halftime of a Jackson Memorial Stadium football game between Ole Miss and Kentucky, played shortly before federal officials were to try to enroll Meredith on campus in Oxford, and Barnett shouted how much he loved Mississippi, loved her people, loved her “customs.” The crowd went wild, and many, many people showed up at the Ole Miss campus to protect our state’s “customs” — essentially meaning to try to preserve segregation as an institution.”

Taggart says while Mississippi still does and likely always will bear the scars of Jim Crow, segregation, and the evil effects of institutionalized racism, we are a completely different state than we were in 1962, and our newly christened state flag is a fitting statement in response to those who would rather face backward than forward.

Trump supporters gesture to U.S. Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Trump supporters gesture to U.S. Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (Source: Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Wednesday’s iconic images of hurt and hate are impossible to forget, but no matter who’s elected or appointed, the average American is never powerless, Councilman Aaron Banks says.

“We can start by seeking to understand one another and to value each other as we find common goals and victories that we can achieve together,” Banks said.

“The good that arises from this is the exposure of what is wrong,” Banks added. “And now that it is no longer hidden, my prayer is that we will have the audacity to deal with it.”

And Taggart says Wednesday’s horror should be a wake-up call to politicians to use their power and influence for good.

“Leadership is not just appealing to a crowd’s basest instincts,” Taggart said. “Leadership is urging people to do what we should do, not just what we want to do. It’s moving people in the direction they should go, not just where they think they want to go.”

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