On September 25, 1962, James Meredith, became the first African American student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.  Five days later, riots erupted and two people died and 200 others were injured. Fifty years later, Ole Miss has crowned its first African-American homecoming queen. “I am still in shock, but I am definitely very excited,” said Courtney Roxanne Pearson. Pearson beat Ashleigh Davis 1,477 votes to 1,387 in the historical win. During Saturday’s homecoming game, not only did Ole Miss beat Auburn, but Pearson, a 21 year old English Secondary Education major from Memphis, was escorted by her father, Commander Kerri Pearson during halftime.

Pearson was inspired to run for homecoming by another African-American student’s unsuccessful run and a conversation with a family friend. “As a child, I had a conversation with the son of a family friend,” Pearson said. “We sat and looked through a magazine one day and the front cover had a bigger, African-American young lady on the cover who had been announced as homecoming queen at some university. The young man did not find this young lady very attractive and he asked how in the world is she homecoming queen. As we kept reading, we found out that the homecoming queen at the particular university was chosen from the women who had the highest grade-point averages. This young man, who often had something sarcastic to say about my academic excellence, looked and me and said, ‘Maybe your grades will get you somewhere one day, because your looks sure won’t.’ That was probably be best motivation I could have had.”

Pearson comes from a long line of Ole Miss graduates. “My mother, father and stepmother are all alumni of the university,” Pearson said. “I really believed that Ole Miss was the right place for me. It’s very hard to explain, but I knew exactly where I was supposed to be.” After graduation in May 2013, Pearson has plans to apply to graduate school and Teach For America.

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