50 years later, Ole Miss 8 return to campus for diplomas and apology from the university

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OXFORD, Miss. — History was made at the University of Mississippi on Tuesday.

At the spot where African-American students were arrested February 25, 1970, during a peaceful demonstration on campus, they came back to gather to recall the event and hear for themselves an apology from the university.

While 89 students in all were arrested, a group called the Ole Miss 8 have come to symbolize the what happened 50 years ago.

“I’m still grappling with the fact that I’m actually back here on campus,” Ole Miss 8 member Linnie Liggins Willis said. “I never intended to come back here, never planned to be back here.”

Tuesday was bittersweet for Liggins Willis, who was one of the 89 Ole Miss students arrested 50 years ago.

“I guess to this day, we still don’t really know how the eight were singled out,” Liggins Willis said. “We were told because they could recognize us in the picture, but we didn’t do anything different from the rest of the group.”

At the time, the Black Students Union drafted a list of 27 demands for the school’s administration. Those demands, Liggins Willis said, fell on deaf ears.

“A number of things that we were asking for that did not exist,” Liggins Willis said. “There were approximately 200 blacks on the campus at that time, and so we felt isolated. We did not have the opportunity to really become a part of the campus and have that campus experience.”

Fifty years later, the Ole Miss 8 gathered on campus to share their memories of the night they were arrested. Some of them were taken to Parchman prison.

“Worried in the back seat of a patrol car, worried someone would pull us over in the middle of the night, and we’d be a mound somewhere out there,” Liggins Willis said.

Liggins Willis admitted there have been some positive changes at Ole Miss but said more needs to be done.

While she had to wait 50 years to receive her diploma, there was some satisfaction in finally hearing a heartfelt apology from the university. 

“I am sorry that your life was complicated by decisions made by the stewards of the institution at that time,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Ole Miss. “I am sorry that you were forced to leave an institution that was created to give you opportunities.”

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