HOLLINS, VA., JAN. 30 -- Hollins College officials have canceled a speech by civil rights activist James Meredith scheduled for next month because his message is seen as too negative.
Meredith, the first black to graduate from the University of Mississippi, was scheduled to speak at Hollins on Feb. 17 as part of the college's Black History Month program.
In a phone interview from his office in Cincinnati, Meredith said the coordinator of the college's Black History Month program notified him of the cancellation by leaving a message on his answering machine that "your appearance here won't work for us."
In a letter to the coordinator, Meredith wrote that "I can assure you that I consider your cancellation of my engagement at your school to be a much bigger infringement upon my rights as a citizen in this country than Gov. Ross Barnett's attempt to keep me from going to the University of Mississippi. At least, he had the state constitution to back him up. I cannot take this lightly."
"We canceled his appearance because he's not the quality of speaker we were looking for," said Linda Steele, Hollins' director of college relations. "We were looking for a positive statement during Black History Month." Steele said it was the students' decision to cancel Meredith's talk. "Hollins is a student-centered college. They have a right to choose who they want to come here to speak."
Two percent of Hollins' 850 undergraduates are black. Steele said students and staff members heard Meredith two weeks ago at the Black Student Leadership Conference at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.
"As a speaker, he didn't meet their expectations," Steele said. "They felt his speech was abusive. They didn't really go into any details with me. They just wanted to present more of a positive message."
Meredith said he talked about "what's happened to black students on white campuses since Ole Miss." He said he told the students they should worry about their grades, not about racist attitudes on campus.
At the University of Mississippi, "when white students called me names, I just smiled and went on about my business," Meredith said. "That's the same thing I'm saying to them. We're there to get an education. We don't need to spend 99 percent of our time trying to force administrators to stop white students from writing graffiti on the walls."
Black studies programs and affirmative action have been "a disaster to black education," Meredith said he told the students.