The real history-making moment Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was not when the Ole Miss Rebels snapped their 16-game SEC losing streak by beating the Auburn Tigers 41-20.
As much as some are celebrating this major event some two years in the making, those of us who advocate for diversity and study the evolution of the Deep South in the issues of racial reconciliation and inclusion ought be celebrating a young lady by the name of Courtney Pearson.
It took much longer than two years (the last time Ole Miss won an SEC game) for an African American to be crowned as the homecoming queen at the University of Mississippi.
I’m thankful to fellow University of Georgia graduate and broadcast journalist Kym Clark for first reporting on Pearson’s selection late last week in advance of Saturday’s ceremony during the Auburn-Ole Miss game.
Clark, who anchors the morning news at WMC-TV, was a historymaker herself in the Georgia Bulldog nation.
In her report Friday, Clark included a photo of her own experience when she was crowned Miss University of Georgia in 1983, the first African American to do so.
It’s been roughly 50 years ago since The University of Alabama, University of Georgia and University of Mississippi first opened their doors to African Americans to study.
Students at all three schools have elected African Americans to lead student government at least once. But, leading the homecoming court, a largely ceremonial role, is another thing.
“I’m not white, I’m not six feet, I’m not blonde, I’m not Greek,” Pearson told the (Memphis) Commercial Appeal in an interview last week.
The University of Mississippi even called attention to the significance of Pearson’s selection in a news release.
As I show my University of Alabama mass communication tudents the power they have to advance the conversation about diversity, I point to Ole Miss, which was featured earlier this year in the PBS program Not in Our Town: Working Together for Safe, Inclusive Communities.
When I showed my summer class the story of One Mississippi, a recent multi-racial effort toward creating an environment of inclusion at Ole Miss, the segment sparked an extended conversation among the University of Alabama students, many of whom are unaware of the power they have to create change.
The segment was among those most remembered when students were asked about memorable segments at the end of the course.
Saturday’s crowning of Courtney Pearson as Miss University of Mississippi is yet another example of how far we’ve come as a nation.
In Oxford, Miss, Pearson’s parents were also Ole Miss graduates. And, this year’s Associated Student Body President, Kimbrely Dandridge, is the first African American woman to hold that office.
“I hope that our elections will send a message to the public that Ole Miss is moving forward. That this institution is not the same institution that it was 50 years ago,” Dandridge said.
The Rebels should be proud of not just their football team that’s on the rise, but of their trailblazing work of Miss Courtney Pearson.