/There’s a story behind this 44-year-old photo of ‘Colonel Reb’ and Miss Ole Miss

There’s a story behind this 44-year-old photo of ‘Colonel Reb’ and Miss Ole Miss

It was taken in 1976. Ben Williams, a history-making football player from Yazoo City had been elected Colonel Rebel. This is the equivalent to Mr. Ole Miss. He was the school’s first black Colonel Rebel. Barbara Biggs, a Jackson biology major and future doctor, was elected Miss Ole Miss. The photo was taken Monday for the annual “Ole Miss” Williams. He was 65. Barbara Biggs was 65 at the time. The letters started arriving shortly after the yearbook was published. Biggs stated Tuesday that she received multiple threats and even death threats from her home in Kennesaw Ga., close to Atlanta. It was unbelievable. One letter came from California, with a clipping of a racist underground newspaper and a story about this photo. A note was attached that read, “What would your forefathers think?” Biggs said that Ben was a very nice man and all of this happened because of a photo. Biggs stated, “I was so sorry that he had died.” Biggs explained that he knew Ben before the photo was taken but they weren’t close friends. “I was and still am a huge football fan, so I knew a lot about Ben and what a great player that he was. He was also an outstanding person, so down-to-earth.” Williams and Biggs had both entered Ole Miss in 1972 from very different backgrounds. She was a Mississippi legacy, and she was also the granddaughter of Martin S. “Mike,” Conner, who was also the first commissioner for the Southeastern Conference. Williams was the first African American football player at Ole Miss. He was the son of sharecroppers, and the sixth-oldest of six children. As a 17-year old, he arrived at Ole Miss as the first member of his family to go to college. Williams’ election was controversial at the time. The school’s mascot was named after the cartoonish, white, Confederate-clad man who many believed represented a plantation owner. He also perpetuated racism in the Old South. In 2003, the university removed the mascot and changed the title of its most popular male elected male to “Mr. Ole Miss was created in 2013. Ole Miss” in 2013. They are not touching. The page 237 page covers the entire photograph. Biggs and Williams are shown on the preceding pages as they were selected for the Ole Miss Hall of Fame and Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities. Linda Williams, Ben’s widow, claimed that her husband had never spoken of a racist reaction to the photo. Linda Williams stated, “But he wouldn’t.” He would let it all go over his head. He didn’t pay much attention to it. My husband was a loving and caring man. He loved everyone.” Biggs stated that few, if any, of those who reacted negatively to the photo or received hate mail from Oxford students were concerned about him. She said that Ben was loved by everyone she knew at Ole Miss. Michael Sweet, an Ole Miss football teammate and now the director for ministries at Gateway Rescue Mission, Jackson, remembers the date the annual was published. Sweet replied, “Oh yeah!” “We used to tease Ben over that. We laughed and said, “Man, Ben, they got them two on opposite sides of the fence.” “Why do you think they did that?” Sweet will give the eulogy for Williams’ funeral on Saturday afternoon. Sweet said that Williams was proud to have been elected Colonel Rebel by fellow Ole Miss students. Sweet stated, “As well as he should have,” Sweet added. Linda Williams attended the Ole Miss reunion in 2008 of former Colonel Rebels. Linda Williams was also there. She said, “That was such an enjoyable time.” “Ben enjoyed reuniting Barbara and me too.” Biggs also fondly remembered the reunion. Biggs stated, “Again Ben couldn’t be nicer.” My 21-year old twins, who are now football stars, were there to meet him. He spent a lot of time with them, and was just amazing with my children.” Hate mail – even threats – over a photo probably seems far-fetched to many young people today. This was 1976, 14 years after James Meredith became Ole Miss’ first black student. A riot ensued that was stopped by thousands federal troops. Biggs said, “It’s amazing what we’ve done from what really wasn’t that long ago.” Their home was destroyed in a fire in autumn last year, and their home where they were living in a rental property was flooded in February. In addition to the huge expense, Ben’s declining health has also caused. Donations can be made to First Commercial Bank at 1300 Meadowbrook Road Jackson, MS 39211. Attn. Sam Lane. Linda Williams can be reached at Linda Williams.