Photo by Courtesy David Rae Morris
On the 50th anniversary of James Meredith's enrollment at Ole Miss, Mississippi Public Broadcasting presents "Integrating Ole Miss: James Meredith and Beyond," a film about how the event shaped the future of the university. The documentary presents Ole Miss as a microcosm for the larger Civil Rights Movement. As the documentary explains, though integration came to the university slowly and with resistance, much has changed at Ole Miss over the past 50 years.
Donna Ladd and Adam Lynch interviewed Mississippi icon James Meredith in his Jackson home in 2008. His answers might surprise you.
David Rae Morris, son of the late Mississippi author Willie Morris, served as the independent producer and filmmaker for the documentary. This project represents his debut in documentary filmmaking.
The documentary premieres Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. on MPB TV. See mpbonline.org.
What do you hope people will gain from the film?
I want people to watch this documentary because it is history, and we don't want to forget the lessons our past taught us. Integration at Ole Miss was only 50 years ago--that is within my lifetime.
Why did you switch into filmmaking from documentary photography?
To be completely honest, the photojournalism industry is in bad shape. Besides, I have wanted to shoot a film since I was in high school.
How did it feel to interview Mr. James Meredith at a library named after your father?
When he agreed to meet with me, he suggested we meet in the Willie Morris library. I thought that was poetic and appropriate. He comes there all the time.
How did you choose which material to keep in the film and which to cut?
We had enough material for a mini-series and trying to boil that down into 26 minutes was like trying to thread a needle with an industrial rope. There was so much material from good people.
Do you have another film idea in mind after you finish this project?
I am going back to the Yazoo (City) project. I received a grant from the Mississippi Council that allowed me produce a trailer and a rough 30-minute draft. I just applied for another grant that will help me include more interviews and make it feature length.
How did your father influence your work?
In terms of a state of mind, he set the bar for me--a really high one. I feel like I have a lot to live up to. It is a tough act to follow. There was a time when I just wanted to run away; I didn't want his career to guide me. That was like swimming upstream, like running away from you really are. 10 to 15 years ago, I decided to accept his legacy. When I allowed him to, I think he inspired me to do good work that matters and comes from the heart. I think that is his lasting legacy in Mississippi.