Ole Miss Elects First Black Homecoming Queen
Just a few decades ago, Courtney Pearson would not have been able to attend the University of Mississippi because of the school’s segregation policy. Back then, the state was so deeply mired in racial discrimination that it garnered a nod in Nina Simone’s classic civil rights anthem “Mississippi Goddamn."
On the 50th anniversary of the university’s first black student’s admission, Ole Miss elected Pearson as its first black homecoming queen. The English Secondary Education major was crowned during the recent Ole Miss–Auburn football game.
Pearson's election to one of the highest ranks for homecoming court reflects significant social progress on a campus that just two years ago was torn apart by the some of the campus community's attachment to a traditional, but racially charged, chant: "The South will rise again." The chant, which had its roots in a Civil War expression, was also linked to Ku Klux Klan slogans and rightfully made students of color and their allies uncomfortable when the phrase was bellowed out at the school's football games. [Read more about recent racial riots at Ole Miss and elsewhere]
Thanks to student-led actions, tensions on campus were eventually quelled and the chant was banned. Check out the trailer below to see how student group One Mississippi led the Ole Miss community to have more open discussions on race, and push back against the KKK when they arrived on campus:
Quite active on campus, Pearson is involved in numerous student organizations including the Student Judicial Council, the University Judicial Council, and the Orientation Leaders Team program. The election was a close one; Pearson received 1,477 votes compared to the 1,387 her opponent secured. Not only is Pearson the first black homecoming queen at Ole Miss, but she’s also the first non-Greek to be crowned as homecoming queen there as well.
Pearson told Ole Miss News that she hopes her win will spark a change in the way people view the university.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” she said. “Ole Miss, get ready. We just changed the face.”
Bridget Todd is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetMarie.