If you walk across the middle of the University of Mississippi’s campus on any given day, you’ll probably see sophomore Correl Hoyle sitting in front of the statue of James Meredith. Meredith was the first African American to integrate the University of Mississippi, in 1962. The monument was constructed in his likeness to symbolize inclusion and to honor his courage in braving such a tumultuous environment in order to obtain a quality education.
During Valentine’s Day weekend in 2014, three young white men hung a noose around the neck of the statue of Meredith and also wrapped an old Georgia Confederate flag around the statue. Shortly after the noosing, Hoyle, an English major at the university, began sitting in front of the statue, holding a vigil. For an hour between classes or when his schedule permitted, he sat like a living statue in front of a constructed one with his legs crossed. Some days he would have an inspirational sign; on others, he would play music. Mentally I applauded him but figured he would eventually stop his protest.
On March 2, snow fell and Hoyle sat. On March 3, weeks after the investigation into the statue’s desecration, Hoyle was still there, sitting on the icy ground, shivering and reading a book in bone-chilling, 30-degree weather.
Coming from Tougaloo College, an HBCU, I was taught to be socially conscious, since our institution is one of the birthplaces of the civil rights movement. If injustice arose around us, we were conditioned to protest, march or do whatever was needed to shake the grounds our ancestors had stood on. Here at the University of Mississippi, black students are not as socially conscious. Seeing Hoyle silently protesting in front of the statue consistently reminded me of the days I allowed my voice to be heard.
It was then that I realized Hoyle represented something bigger than himself. Fast-forward to the spring semester of 2015, almost a year after the incident, and you can still walk past the Meredith statue and see Hoyle sitting. One day I decided to join him and discuss his feelings about the incident and why, after almost a year, he continues to protest.
“A lot of people assumed I was angry after the incident, but I was more so shocked,” Hoyle said. “I knew racism still existed in the state and in this country as a whole, but I didn’t know someone or a group would be so blatant about it and it would shake the foundation that I stood on here at the university. Never have I experienced something like this at my doorstep, and I was more shocked, but also disappointed because things like this are still happening here. People are still living with the ideology that one race is … superior to the other, or one class of people is better than the other. This is a sad truth we have to live with.”
A former professor of Hoyle’s inspired the protest. “He said to us, ‘Why should you be afraid to come to this campus?’” Hoyle explained. “‘You paid good money to attend this institution. We technically work for you. You have a voice, no matter how minuscule you think it is.’
“I decided that day, after he had given his speech, that I had an hour between classes [and] that I would sit in front of the statue and ponder … the situation, the condition of the school, and to show I was not intimidated by those actions,” he continued. “It wasn’t a call to arms, but I decided to sit out there and display my intolerance for this behavior and that I was not intimidated.”
The South, especially Mississippi, has a complex narrative deep-fried in racial hatred, and the University of Mississippi has seen its fair share. In 2012 a white student wrote “N—ger” across a black student’s dorm door. Later that same year a miniriot, complete with students yelling racial slurs, erupted on campus after President Obama was re-elected. Just last year, the renaming of Confederate Drive to Chapel Lane spurred a lawsuit against the university by the Mississippi Division Sons of Confederate Veterans, who want to preserve their “history.”
It’s these passive-aggressive bouts of racism that Hoyle is battling to change.
“Simple things like this go unnoticed,” Hoyle said. “If it is not talked about, it will happen again. Of course I am not going to be able to personally stop it from happening, but if I can raise awareness of race relations and every other conflict of creeds there are, maybe I can change the opinions of a few individuals that will in turn spread the goodwill that I pass around.”
Tyler Carter is a graduate student at the University of Mississippi pursuing a master’s degree in journalism. He is the author and founder of the University of Mississippi Graduate School Newsletter, and his work has also appeared in the Daily Mississippian, the Mississippi Link and Tougaloo Harambee.