University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones will meet Tuesday (Nov. 27) with Mary Woods and her son, Jamal Woods, regarding on-campus incidents of harassment made uglier by racial underpinnings.
The Rev. Dwight Montgomery, Memphis SCLC president, confirmed the meeting Tuesday (Nov. 20) after he and the Rev. L. LaSimba Gray, Rainbow PUSH Memphis president, held a press conference calling for the university to meet with the Woods family, SCLC Memphis and Rainbow PUSH.
Mary Woods, who reached out to Rev. Montgomery for help, told The New Tri-State Defender that she was greatly satisfied that Jones and the university had agreed to a meeting. "But if they had been on top of this from the beginning, none of this would have happened," she said.
The call for a meeting rang out in the wake of incidents that occurred on the Oxford, Miss. campus on Election Night (Nov. 6). According to some student leaders, a small group of students took to the campus streets (after President Barack Obama's Election Night victory) playing "Dixie," shouting, "The South will rise again," and screaming racial slurs at fellow students.
Lewis Garrison, a SCLC member and legal advisor, helped arrange the meeting. Garrison, who graduated from Ole Miss in 1958, said the university needs to send a clear signal.
"I saw the kids rioting after the Obama election and I think they can easily identify some of them and they ought to expel them," said Garrison.
Ole Miss spokesperson Danny Blanton responded to the TSD by email. He said university officials contacted the FBI for assistance and were told there was not enough evidence available for them to consider the incident a federal crime.
The email also indicated that there have been no official reports of similar racially motivated, personal attacks.
In a short interview later, Blanton said the matter sickens the university's administration, and not just because it is a public relations nightmare, coming as Ole Miss celebrates its fiftieth year of integration. He said the university had changed since the ugly confrontation that marred the attempt to integrate the school in the early '60s.
"We want to reach out to Jamal Woods and take every measure to keep him safe. We don't know why he was targeted," said Blanton.
"There were others on the same floor who were victims of vandalism and racial slurs, and we're going to take every measure to make sure their civil rights are protected. We had moved him to another dorm and periodically kept check on him and everything was fine until his truck was vandalized."
Mary Woods recalled getting the call about the vandalism.
"They had written on it, scratched it up, flattened the tires, drilled the keyhole and stole all of his personal items and clothes. They scratched in 'KKK and GO HOME' on the hood, and had written N-I-G-A on the tailgate," she said.
"But I really got angry when I found out that this was not the first time it had happened. And then it got worse when he (Jamal Woods) told me what they had done after it was discovered, and that's when I found out there had been more than one incident."
Woods said the door to her son's dorm room was vandalized during the same time frame that his truck was vandalized.
"I told him to report it to the dorm advisor and the police, but by the time they had, the janitor or someone had already painted over all of the writing, both times. The first time was on August 24th and it happened again on August 26th, and each time the racial slurs had been painted over. But I had already told him to take pictures of everything."
Woods is adamant that university officials – after three incidents – should have contacted her about what measures were being taken to keep her son safe.
"I've called them several times but no one ever responded to me. That's why I contacted Rev. Montgomery. I didn't know what else to do," said Woods.
Montgomery said concern number one is that Jamal Woods "stay whole so that he can remain upon the path he is on. This is a strongly motivated, positive young man, in ROTC, going after his goals. I think the university bears some responsibility to see that the material goods he is out of are restored. There needs to be some assurances for his protection so that he can remain at the college, because if he doesn't, that means the students who did this have won."
A lingering question, said Montgomery, is what can the university do to "deal with certain white students that have a problem with black students on the University of Mississippi campus."
"What happened in Jamal's case is just a symptom of something that needs to be dealt with. There is obviously a problem that has to be dealt with before someone is injured or loses their life," said Montgomery.
"I don't think anyone will really bother him. I hope not. But everything should be done to make sure that he can continue there because it is where he has chosen to be."
Montgomery summed up the situation this way:
"To have to leave over some mess like this would be terrible. Ole Miss still apparently has some students who still have that old rebel, white supremacy mentality, but they're going to have to give it up," he said.
"It comes from their parents and there's no time for any of that in 2012."