“Judge Reeves speaks at UM”

Originally published in the Oxford Eagle on October 28, 2015. Republished with permission.

Image of Lyndy Berryhill of the Oxford Eagle.

Lyndy Berryhill, Oxford Eagle.

I’m grateful to Lyndy Berryhill of The Oxford Eagle, who came to our forum with Judge Reeves. She also kindly gave me permission to republish her piece on my page here. Thanks again to the Mississippi Humanities Council and to the College of Liberal Arts for their support for the event! Thanks to Berryhill for coming and letting people know about the event. There’s so much to be proud of in Mississippi. It’s crucial that we talk about that more often. Here’s her piece:

Judge Carlton Reeves, photo by Lyndy Berryhill of the Oxford Eagle, 2015.

Judge Carlton Reeves, photo by Lyndy Berryhill of the Oxford Eagle, 2015.

By Lyndy Berryhill

In the wake of racial discussions on campus, the University of Mississippi provided students with a speaker to talk about Mississippi history and racial violence in the state.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves of Mississippi.

District Judge Carlton Reeves has presided over key race and equality cases in Mississippi

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves spoke on “Race and Moral Leadership in the U.S. Judicial System.” Tuesday afternoon in Bryant Hall.

“Mississippi has struggled with its past, but it has also struggled to move forward,” Reeves said.

Reeves famously presided over the racially charged murder of James Craig Anderson and later sentenced his murderers to prison. NPR called his speech at the trial “breathtaking” and it garnered Reeves national media attention. During the forum, Reeves talked about the case and how it was important for people to realize what a hate crime is.

Weber in 2010 in Ventress Hall at the University of Mississippi.

Ventress, (c) U of MS 2010.

He said he believes there is a new Mississippi starting to form with a new generation. A couple decades ago, most of the racial progress that is present today would be unthinkable. He said to continue that progress, students have to continue to have open discussions and remain open-minded.

“The response to him was better than I could have hoped for. The students could relate to Judge Reeves, because he’s from Mississippi,” said Eric Thomas Weber, associate professor of public policy leadership.

“Students often feel that politics is uncooperative, primarily a battle between competing interests. Sometimes, however, we can find shining examples of virtuous people and leaders making the right decisions,” he said.

Logo of the Mississippi Humanities Council.Weber routinely brings in visiting speakers relevant to the current news cycle. With the help of the Mississippi Humanities Council, Weber brought Reeves to visit his class and speak to a packed open forum.

Reeves first arrived in time for a lunch with public policy leadership majors and then he joined a philosophy of leadership class.

“Over the last few years, as I wrote ‘Uniting Mississippi,’ the racially charged murder of James Craig Anderson offered the most troubling recent example of injustice here that is rooted in underlying cultural divides and hatred,” Weber said.

After he wrote the book, Weber came across Judge Reeves’ speech from the sentencing in the case.

The Lyceum building at the University of Mississippi.“It truly took my breath away,” Weber said. “I was so moved that I immediately decided to write Judge Reeves to tell him. I mentioned in my note that if he were ever willing to come to my philosophy of leadership course, we would love to have him come to the university.”

Within a matter of hours, Reeves replied that he would be honored.

Weber said Reeves is an example of hope for progress in Mississippi.

“He is also an inspiration for our students to look beyond partisanship to the character of our leaders,” Weber said. “I couldn’t ask for more from the visit of an invited guest.”

The Oxford Eagle logo. Reposted here with permission from The Oxford Eagle.

Book Talk on ‘Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South’

At the Clinton School for Public Service, on Monday, October 19, 2015 at noon.

I am so grateful for two lovely introductions, one from Dean Skip Rutherford of the Clinton School and a former student of mine studying there, Rob Pillow. This video includes only the talk and Q&A. If I can get their intros, I’ll post them too. The Clinton School folks are excellent at what they do and were wonderful hosts. Here’s the video of my book talk:

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, then click here.

You can find the video on the Clinton School’s speakers site here.

If you’re interested in inviting me to speak with your group, visit my Speaking and Contacts pages. 

A State Divided Against Itself, Mississippi

Mississippi offers a clear example of Plato’s worry about disunity. One of the four virtues that he clarifies in The Republic is moderation, which is important for avoiding the extremes of behavior or of belief. What is most famous about Plato is his conclusion that the good city needs philosopher-kings, that leadership most fundamentally must be guided by wisdom. While that is true, it misses what Plato’s Socrates calls the greatest good for the city, the absence of which yields the greatest evil.

The building and logo for the Clinton School for Public Service at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Plato’s Socrates asks “Is there any greater evil we can mention for the city than that which tears it apart and makes it many instead of one? Or any greater good than that which binds it together and makes it one?” Yes, wisdom is the most important virtue in one sense, for Plato, but when it comes to the public good, wisdom should be most concerned about division, and most fervently and wisely striving for unity. Without the latter, a state, divided against itself, only falls apart or fails at its aims.

The logo for KUAR 89.1 NPR, University of Arkansas Little Rock's Public Radio channel.I am looking forward to visiting the Clinton School for Public Service at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on October 19th (if you’re in the area, mark your calendar). For those interested, I believe you’ll be able to watch the talk I give there via live Web stream. I should also be able to link to the video of it afterwards. And, as I’ve noted, I’ll give an interview on the Little Rock affiliate of NPR program, the “Clinton School Presents.”

Images of Google's headquarters.In preparation for that trip and while talking with students, I’ve wondered about Alabama’s quick removal of its Confederate Battle Flags from public spaces. On the one hand, it was no surprise, given how atrocious the Charleston murders were. On the other, places like Alabama and Mississippi have been home to some of the most stubborn unwillingness to change. As places in which land is cheap and taxes are low, Alabama and Mississippi nevertheless struggle with economic development in part because of our troubled histories and the continued division and dysfunction that come from disunity.

Confederate Battle Flag that used to fly in public spaces in Alabama.The same day in Alabama, however, the Governor announced the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag and the commitment from Google to build a $600 million facility in the state. According to the Alabama Media Group, “The decision to take the flags down had nothing to do with the Google announcement, but the governor said economic development was part of the reason to avoid a fight.” The denial of a relationship between the two announcements sounds about as plausible as Nixon’s declaration that he’s not a crook.

As one of my students asked me this week, “How much has Mississippi missed out on because of our stubbornness?” Good question. More importantly, however, is the meaning of Mississippi’s recalcitrance. It means that people have yet to feel the pangs that they should in their hearts. We remain a state divided against itself, and we continue to suffer the consequences of the evil that tears us apart.

Bust of the great philosopher Aristotle.I’m glad to say that civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams has joined the rally to change Mississippi’s flag, which features an emblem of the Confederate Battle Flag in its canton. There are those who have said that taking the flag down won’t change their hearts (1, 2, 3). To them, I say two things. First, it is alright for some people to be a lost cause, when so many other people are not. In a lovely garden, there are still unpleasant things living under a rock. That doesn’t mean we cannot enjoy the garden’s beauty, appreciating all that warrants sunlight. Second, Aristotle explained that one’s virtue, the state of one’s character, is a result of what we repeatedly do. Our habits matter. Public spaces are a visible place that inspires habits and maintains them. Changing those habits will only slowly bring about a change. It is also no guarantee. But, it is a wise step in the right direction towards healing, virtue, and unity.

Paperback editions featuring the cover of 'Uniting Mississippi.'As I finished my latest book, thinking about the possible titles for it, the most pressing challenge and opportunity for the state jumped out clearly. The difficulty for Mississippi, and, if resolved, the incredible opportunity for the state, would come from unity. No greater good could come to Mississippi than from that which will make it one, instead of many. There is therefore no greater cause I can see for the state than of Uniting Mississippi.

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