Twenty years ago this week, James Meredith brought integration to this languid college town. He was the first black to enroll at the University of Mississippi. But that moment, a landmark in the history of the South and civil rights, touched off a battle that left two dead, 100 injured, 30,000 troopers dug in and bitter memories.
The university lost students; professors fled; local merchants went bankrupt. Families split bitterly in the town that William Faulkner called home.
Meredith endured harassment from angry students bouncing basketballs above his room at night and hoots as federal marshals escorted him on campus by day.
One white student who befriended Meredith found his record collection smashed, his room smeared with excrement.
Snipers shot at National Guardsmen.
Visitors can still find the bullet holes in the white-columned Lyceum.
Today, Ole Miss is still trying to resolve its troubled racial heritage.
Meredith is a fading memory to 750 black students who make up about 8 percent of the enrollment, a figure greater than the total of black alumni.
"He's like Vietnam, no one remembers anything about it," one student said.
"He's just not a big hero to blacks," said black English major Ronnie Askew, 20. "We're glad he did it; it took courage. But he just happened to be the first one."
"Black students at Ole Miss are more interested in Dow Jones than James Meredith," history professor David Sansing said.
Yet the ghosts of that era still haunt this shady campus of magnolias and buried Confederate dead. They are stirred every time John Hawkins lifts Laura Smith overhead before crowds of screaming Rebel fans, a symbol of the new racial moderation.
Hawkins is the school's first black cheerleader, and refuses to hoist the Confederate flag at football games. Smith is a white from Memphis and vows to stand by him for the team's sake.
But as a photographer clicked away days before the football season opener, Smith protested, "No pictures!" Hawkins looked crushed.
"She's real worried about her daddy," said head cheerleader Frank Parker, scrambling to patch things up. "Please try and understand."
Like many other students here, the cheerleaders are coping as best they can with a dilemma they have inherited from their parents' generation: how to relate to blacks in the New South. Some of the students find it difficult because they come from a world where many of the old folkways survive today. Yet the cheerleaders rally behind Hawkins, praising him to friends, standing up on his behalf in the face of wisecracks.
"What worries me is if he makes one little mistake, they'll jump all over him, or some drunken alumni will do something nasty at the games," said John White, 22, the team microphone man.
Hawkins refuses to wave Old Dixie because many blacks view it as a symbol of slavery. Nor do blacks warm to the 10,000 tiny Confederate flags passed out at ball games to boost school spirit. They want the flag altered to a "spirit flag" they can wave to whoop for their Rebels.
As president of the Black Student Union, Hawkins suggests a compromise: keep the Confederate backdrop. Just superimpose Colonel Rebel, the school's graycoat patron saint, over it. "Then black students couldn't say a Confederate flag was being waved to oppress them," he said.
But white alumni have threatened to have college officials fired if the flag is touched. "All we have to hold on to are our traditions," said sophomore Ben Logan, explaining why the flag has become a sore point. "We haven't had a winning football team in 20 years."
Indeed, Ole Miss, like Mississippi, has known defeat. Civil War wounded from the bloody battle of Shiloh, just up the road, were nursed on campus. The state dispatched 103 young men to the battle of Gettysburg. They are buried in unmarked graves behind the coliseum. Those were the old glory days.
Yet black athletes are part of its new glory days. Rebel touchdowns have changed more attitudes than civil rights laws, winning games for Ole Miss.
Professor Sansing said he knew a new day was dawning when fans began to cheer for black Rebels. "It was, 'Lookit that Puerto Rican run!' . . . . If we had only known how easy it was going to be, we wouldn't have had to go through all the travails."
Black football star "Gentle" Ben Williams, now a tackle for the Buffalo Bills, was elected Colonel Rebel, a sort of "Mr. Ole Miss," in 1977. It was a turning point at the university.
There are only six blacks out of 600 faculty members, but university officials said they are working hard to recruit more. An old image of southern intransigence is the biggest obstacle.
But it is a sign of the changes that Danny Spivey can say of his grandfather -- an Episcopal priest and now bishop who faced down the rioters when Meredith started school -- "I'm proud he stood up. Somebody needed to."
Spivey parties in Kappa Alpha's red brick mansion, where his fraternity brothers toss Frisbees, swig Johnny Walker from a bottle and extol Robert E. Lee, the fraternity's hero.
While some attitudes have mellowed, social barriers remain fixed. There are no blacks in white fraternities or sororities. Blacks have their own organizations.
"There is one black KA at Davidson College , but it won't happen here," said Bill Garner, 20. "We don't bother them and they don't bother us."
Many white students are graduates of the state's segregation academies and at Ole Miss are sitting beside blacks for the first time. Others are among the first graduates to have risen through 12 grades of integrated public schools.
Among them is the grandson of Ross Barnett, the governor who fought to keep Meredith out. Last year, the grandson coached a black girls softball team at Sigma Chi Derby Day.
And most blacks value an Ole Miss diploma because the university is a finishing school for the state's politicians, business leaders and lawyers. "This is the place," said Kitty Dumas, 20, a black journalism major. "Since whites are the power structure, why not interact now instead of getting culture shock when you leave?"
This week, the university plans the first in a series of seminars to dissect the racial fallout from "Bloody Sunday," Sept. 30, 1962, when 2,500 students and convoys of armed whites answered Gov. Barnett's call to keep Meredith out.
"There was total madness, hysteria," recalled Dean Faulkner Wells, niece of the late novelist, who runs a small publishing house with her husband, Larry. She remembers wading into the streets to watch mobs vandalize Coke machines to make Molotov cocktails while state troopers refused to intervene. Then President Kennedy dispatched troops to keep the peace. "Kennedy saved this little town," she said.
However profoundly the Meredith crisis affected the nation's racial landscape, its 20th anniversary celebration here has inspired scant financial support. Lucius Williams, the frustrated black assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs, has been able to raise only $6,000 for the $64,000 program. Student interest is flagging.
Last week Meredith, 49, now a Jackson newsletter publisher, agreed to attend. After he was graduated in 1963, Meredith worked in civil rights (he was shot on one voting rights march), operated a motel and ran unsuccessfully for various public offices. In a letter to the university, he labeled the seminars "the most important event shaping future relationships between blacks and whites for the next several years."
Many Oxford residents consider the remembrance as salt in old wounds. "Most people are disgusted," said Mayor John Leslie, a pharmacist.
Among those still bitter is Guy Turnbow, 39, a businessman whose pasture became the bivouac for thousands of Army troops.
"The feds did everything to rub our nose in it," Turnbow said over breakfast at Smitty's. "They even had black military police search our cars. . . . Oxford had a depression afterwards. What's there to celebrate?"
"People just want to be remembered for something else," said Leslie, boosting his town as "one of the most integrated for our size in Mississippi."
Indeed, there are no all-white segregation academies in Lafayette County. Blacks make up 40 percent of the public school enrollment, work in the sheriff's department, serve on boards and commissions and drink side by side with whites at the Holiday Inn. Clyde Goolsby, 41, the beefy black bartender, is as highly esteemed for boosting race relations with his margaritas as Willie Morris is for his prose.
"The changes that have taken place in Mississippi -- and at Ole Miss -- in the last 20 years are remarkable," said Ed Meek, the university public relations director. "Twenty years is a long time, but we had a long way to go."