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Symposium on Social Justice [transcript page 1]
Thad Cochran Center University of Southern Mississippi Nov. 9, 2007
Good morning: My name is Chuck Kershner. I am a 1965 graduate of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor of science degree in Journalism and English. I was also the executive editor of the Student Printz during one of the school's more turbulent moments in its nearly 100 year-old history. I was invited to join this symposium to provide a student journalist's perspective of the civil rights era on campus in the 1960s.
Journalists like to tell stories when they are not writing serious news. I have a story to tell you today about two events that led to the integration of this institution in 1965 -one of which is missing from the historic record of social justice at Southern Miss.
First, a word on the meaning of 'civil rights'. A common definition of the term goes something like this: "A broad range ofprivileges and rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and subsequent amendments and laws that guarantee fundamental freedomsto all individuals.Thesefreedoms include therightsoffree expression and action (civil liberties); the right to enter into contracts, own property, and initiate lawsuits; the rights of due process and equal protection of the laws; opportunities in education and work; the freedom to live, travel, and use public facilities wherever one chooses; and the right to participate in the democratic political system." -American Heritage Dictionary.
It would appear by this definition that civil rights-or social justice-is a uniquely American attribute. Yet the decades of apartheid practiced in South Africa was clearly a civil rights issue just as the repression of people's basic rights anywhere in the world. I need not mention the violation of civil rights and liberties in Iraq or in Pakistan as current examples of what I mean.
Second, as student here in the I960s, civil rights meant more than integration. Students were vocally displeased with what they consider the administration's violation of their civil rights or liberties, which include the prohibition against men growing beards and women wearing short skirts. By today's standards, those complaints seemed childish; at the time, they were important to us.