Actor and musician Harry Belafonte spoke to a packed house at the Ford Center Monday night. “Civil rights is not just a movement, it’s a way of life,” Belafonte said. Chancellor Dan Jones opened the ceremony with a brief statement about the day’s meaning for The University of Mississippi. With the help of faculty members and a civil rights committee, headed by Director of the African American Studies program, professor Charles Ross, the university was able to organize a series of events that will continue throughout the year.
“Whatever our remembrances, they tell a story of a courageous American,” Jones said. “Someone whose heroic actions and perseverance change all of our lives for the better, and (Meredith’s actions) remind us to never give up when the cause is worth fighting for.” Although Meredith did not attend, his brother, sister and granddaughter were in attendance and were recognized by Jones.
Also in attendance was former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, who was a strong advocate for civil rights at UM and the state of Mississippi. The Ole Miss gospel choir sang three selections that pleased not only the crowd, but Belafonte himself. As he began his speech, he asked the crowd to give the choir and Jones another round of applause.
Belafonte was very active in the Civil Rights Movement, having the chance to work with Martin Luther King Jr. Although Belafonte only had the chance to meet Meredith a few times, he said his impact influenced not only the history of UM, but the history of the world, as well. Belafonte shared a conversation he had with King that related to Meredith’s struggles to integrate the university. “(King) said, ‘I am preoccupied with the whole idea of integration because I am of the mind and feeling that as long and as hard as we struggle for integration … we are integrating into a burning house,’” Belafonte said. According to Belafonte, Meredith became the “fire” King referenced and took the dangerous risk of com- ing to Ole Miss. “I must say that we have struggled for lives and breaths not just at Ole Miss, not just in the state of Mississippi, not just in America, but everywhere I’ve been in the world,” Belafonte said.