Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fifty Years Ago

If you think that these days are hectic in America, consider the fall of 1962, John Kennedy's final full autumn.  Just over before a year before he was assassinated, Kennedy dealt with two huge crises - quite a lot to face.  In late October, as my sixth-grade class practiced how to get down under our desks to protect ourselves from nuclear radiation, the president and his people stood up to Russia and prevented nuclear radiation from raining down on us in the Cuban missile crisis.

Just before that international crisis, the president and his brother Robert had to solve a domestic problem.  And you younger readers are not going to have an easy time believing this, but the deal was that a man named James Meredith, who had been in the Air Force for nine years and had finished two years of schooling at another school, wished to finish his undergraduate studies at the University of Mississippi, known to locals as "Ole Miss."

So what's the problem with a man who had served his country and gotten two years of college behind him wishing to matriculate at a state university?  What possible reason to deny him enrollment, you ask?

The governor of an American state, 1962
James Meredith was an African-American man, and Ross Barnett, governor of Mississippi and a man largely regarded as a bumbling fool, said no way Meredith was coming to his dang college, and that's all there is to say.

Well, the brothers Kennedy had something to say about it, and they wound up having to send federal marshals and the National Guard to quell the riots that Barnett engendered with his stupid racism.  Two people were killed in the riots, but Meredith got his schooling and graduated from Ole Miss in 1964.

There is currently playing on the various ESPN cable channels a documentary about that Mississippi autumn; it's called Ghosts of Ole Miss, and I recommend it for those of you who remember those parlous times, and for those of you who don't.   You might have a hard time believing that people could be so intransigent about racial matters, but that is the way they were.  As the film points out, those were people only three generations removed from the Civil War.

But- you know how I love to learn something from everything, right...?  Well, the Ole Miss Rebels football team had a great season that year with all that hateful violence as a backdrop.  And in the December 1 game against Mississippi State, a play that has come to be known as "the Goof that laid the golden egg" enabled them to win the game and maintain their unbeaten status.  Their backup quarterback, Jim Weatherly, missed making a handoff to his halfback and was forced to run right, keeping the ball himself and taking it all the way for a touchdown on a play that was not supposed to happen that way. 

Gladys Knight
I heard the film mention his name and I got to thinking...Jim Weatherly...the same Jim Weatherly?  The Jim Weatherly who moved to Nashville and wrote songs for Gladys Knight and the Pips, songs like "Midnight Train to Georgia," "(Neither One of Us) Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye" and "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me"?

Yep.  Same guy.  And now we know the Rest of the Story.

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