Fifty-years ago Courtney Roxanne Pearson would not have been allowed to enroll at the University of Mississippi because she was black let alone think of becoming the first African-American homecoming queen of Ole Miss.
But today the 21-year-old senior English education student from Memphis is preparing for her historic crowning during the halftime ceremonies when Ole Miss faces off against Auburn University at the university football stadium.
‘I am still in shock, but I am definitely very excited,’ said Pearson who beat Ashleigh Davis for the chance to wear the crown 1,477 votes to 1,387 in a victory for the University of Mississippi’s reputation in race relations.
‘It couldn’t have come at a better time,’ added Pearson, who considers her victory a landmark for Ole Miss which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the admission of James Meredith, their first African-American student, which set off rioting at the southern college.
Pleased but stunned to have won the race, Pearson spoke about how she bucked the trend in winning the crown as an African-American.
‘We do have a typical tradition in that, that person is usually Greek, and that person is usually white,’ said Pearson to WDAM.
‘But, I think we’re kind of going away from that and really trying to look at what that person has done for the university, on what they’ve been involved in, what they’re grades are looking like, things like that.’
Aware of her unique position, Pearson wants to push other African-Americans to believe in themselves.
‘I feel like it’s an inspiration for others to be like, there’s nothing that can hold me back, not my race, not my greekness, or my non-greekness – whatever it is that I want to do, I can do it,’ said Pearson.
Reflecting on the fact that 50-years ago she would have been kept out of Ole Miss because of segregation, Pearson was clear what her homecoming queen victory means.
‘Now the students are saying ‘Not only do we want you to attend, we want you to represent us at a whole and go and show the whole world what we’re about and what we represent,’ said Pearson.
Pearson is pleased that her place in Ole Miss history is another step upon which future minority students can build.
‘I hope that after Homecoming 2012 everyone gives Ole Miss the respect it deserves and that this election inspires someone else to follow their dreams,’ said Pearson.
In 1962, when the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi was announced, riots began on September 30th in which two people died and 200 others were injured.
Some arrests took place with regard to the riot, but no one was convicted.
Meredith’s admission was hailed as a trailblazer and ‘really provided the pathway for an ongoing dialogue about race in a serious manner,’ said Jackson State University political professor Leslie B. McLemore to The Town Talk.
‘It caused Mississippi and some of the other states to examine where we were, who we are and where we are going.’