by Katherine Wroblewski
Millsaps College has consistently pursued a tradition of excellence since the school first opened its doors in 1890. The motto of “ad excellentiam” helped the college to find its courage leading up to and during the civil rights era.
Millsaps has stood apart from other Mississippi schools since as early as the 1920s. During the decade there was a fellowship between numerous black colleges in Mississippi, which the faculty and the President of the Board of Trustees supported. In the 1930s, the International Relations club corresponded with senators in an attempt to support an anti-lynching bill. In the 1950s, Millsaps fostered forums and meetings with students at Tougaloo-a partnership that continues to this day, as seen in the recent Martin Luther King Day activities.
And in 1965, Millsaps College was the first white higher-level education institution in Mississippi to voluntarily desegregate. This caused journalist Hodding Carter to refer to Millsaps College as “the bravest little college in America.” Millsaps was considered “a shining light” during this era. Despite this step forward in achieving civil rights, not everyone was in favor of the new integration policy. The college experienced a drop in both funding and enrollment after this new policy change.
Millsaps College helped to inspire a progressive change in a state that as protest song writer Phil Ochs so eloquently put it, is where “rudiments of hatred are present everywhere.” As students all across the country this week commemorate Marin Luther King Day, take a moment to reflect on the role that Millsaps College played in helping Mr. King with the advancement of civil rights. The college has always tried to create an environment in which a respectful discussion on controversial topics, such as race, can take place without fearing a public backlash. Not many schools can boast this achievement, which should make you proud to be a Millsapian.
If you wish to learn more about this particular topic, in October 2010 Millsaps held a roundtable discussion called A Shining Light: Millsaps in the Civil Rights Movement: a 50-Year Retrospective.
We welcome any student’s comments on Millsaps College’s relationship with race, past or present. If you would like to write, email Editor in Chief Zachary Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.