Ole Miss University commemorated the mass arrest of nearly 89 Black students – and expulsion of eight – on February 25, 1970 with a conference called Black Power at Ole Miss: Remembrance, Reckoning, and Repair at Fifty Years this week. The event remembered the activism and sacrifice of students, reckon with the harm and trauma caused by the actions of the university and law enforcement, and seek reparative solutions grounded in truth-telling and justice. The arrests on that day in 1970 happened less than eight years after Ole Miss enrolled its first black student under a federal court order and with protection of U.S. marshals.
“I am sorry it took us 50 years to do this,” Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Ole Miss, said Tuesday during the conference. “I am sorry that your life was complicated by decisions made by the stewards of the institution at that time,” “I am sorry that you were forced to leave an institution that was created to give you opportunities.”
Five of the eight suspended students returned to campus for the conference.
The university also awarded a diploma to one of the people who was arrested. Linnie Liggins — now married and known as Linnie Liggins Willis — had completed her coursework before her arrest but the university at the time refused to give her the diploma she had earned.
“I’m still grappling with the fact that I’m actually back here on campus,” Linnie Liggins Willis said to WREG Memphis news. “I never intended to come back here, never planned to be back here.”