The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in Mississippi
Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states, simplistically put, that things
are uncertain. "Things" is important here: in physics, things are only
things when they or their properties have been observed, in particular,
their measurements; else they are at best irrelevant. To be said to
exist, to contribute to the physicist's view of reality, they must be
observable, and unobserved observables are merely extrapolations from
observed observables. Furthermore, observation of a thing, the only
source of its claim to reality, interacts with the thing observed,
changing its properties and thus at once falsifying the results of
observation. (Entanglement has since replaced direct disturbance in
accounting for uncertainty in observation.)
In 1962, the Federal
Government, in its methodical campaign to desegregate the South one
institution at a time, enlisted a young black man, James Meredith, who
had won in court the right to enroll at Ol' Miss, the all-white
University of Mississippi. Attempts to enroll would not by themselves
accomplish much, so along with James the government sent a large troop
of marshals, soldiers, various agents, and probably some attorneys
general. An entire dormitory was demanded and (no doubt grudgingly)
handed over for the housing of marshals, soldiers, agents, attorneys
general, and James. I have no doubt that they put James at the center of
the building, with as many marshals, soldiers, and walls as possible
between him and the bullets that could well be expected.
fall of 1961, I received a telephone call from my best friend in high
school. Our families lived on the same street in New Haven, CT. Joel
went to Ol' Miss simply to drive his father insane, although he must
have suspected that his likes and dislikes would find comfort there, and
so they did: he loved it. Now he invited me to be a guest of his
fraternity--Phi Kappa Psi forever!--for Homecoming Weekend. I explained
that one weekend in Oxford, MS would consume more than my total
entertainment budget for that year, if not for all the rest of college.
But he convinced me that, if so, it would be more than worth it. He was
right. It was the finest college weekend I would ever spend. Bellowing
Dixie, I experienced patriotism for the first time. The Game was
genuinely thrilling. I built much of their Homecoming lawn display,
featuring a rocket that belched dense white smoke for hours, using
chemicals pilfered from the lab.
Now when in 1962 I heard of
James Meredith's adventure, I was electrified: I wanted to return to Ol'
Miss, throw myself on the mercy of Phi Kappa Psi, and, using their frat
house as a hideout, report the goings-on from my presumably unique
perspective. No one--not at college, not at the local paper,
nowhere--would finance the trip. I went anyway. There was a total news
blackout. The entrances and exits on campus were guarded and no one was
allowed in. There were no reporters anywhere around. Just me. I knew the
terrain well enough to evade the guards, made it to the frat house, and
explained my plan. Joel was gone by then, but they took me in. I
promised them that if I got my news published (I did), I would send them
a copy, so they'd know that I had told the story truly. For three days I
roamed the campus, observing and interviewing everything and everyone
except James, and the marshals, soldiers, agents, and any A.G.s who
might be on hand. I stayed away from them and their building, and
strolled about as just another student; no one challenged me.
when my head was full enough, I was ready for what I knew would be my
last interview. Once I had identified myself, I expected to be ejected
at once, and so I was! Two government men drove me to Memphis
immediately after. This service was not optional. At lunchtime, I headed
for the dining hall. A cartoon from the 1950s made up of dots
surrounding an empty circle with one dot at the center says it all:
"Germs avoiding a germ that caught penicillin." The place was packed,
but for a deserted circle centered on one table, where James sat with
his guards. He was handsome and well dressed, and doing his best to seem
at ease. I walked directly to the table, introduced myself, and did my
short interview. There really wasn't much to say; I certainly was not
going to get into, "And how do you feel, Mr. Meredith, at being the
object of so much fear and hatred?"
And toward the end, one of
the students at lunch outside the Circle of Death detached himself from
his company and came up to us looking serious and resolute. He allowed
as how, though he did not approve of this invasion, he respected Mr.
Meredith's right to be here. They shook hands. He was the second student
at Ol' Miss to interact with James. I was the first.
James Meredith must have graduated, because he became a lawyer. He is alive today, but no longer practices law.
Copyright (c) February 12, 2011 (110212) by W.Bloch, all rights reserved.