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Ole Miss' Best Secret Also its Worst Kept
By: Three Times Dot Org LLC
It's a rare occurrence....
Door Ajar – The M.B. Mayfield Story is not a secret nowadays but nor is it a story that everyone knows about.
I was fortunate to have filmed a good portion of Door Ajar at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford, Mississippi where the story took place nearly seventy years ago in 1949.
There, I interviewed several students, and none of them had heard of Mayfield or his story.
To be fair to them, nor had Ian Banner the chief architect of Ole Miss. The fact that Banner who was amazing to work with is a transplant from the United Kingdom has nothing to do with it.
I'm a Kiwi (a native of New Zealand), and I'd found out about Mayfield's story. Albeit in an antique store on the other side of town from Betty Gammel who personally knew Mayfield.
Mayfield, an African American who was a primitive artist, was discovered by Stuart R. Purser.
Purser was the first head of the art department at Ole Miss. He was on his way to take up his post as chairman and came across Mayfield's artwork on the porch of his home in Ecru just forty miles east of Oxford.
Within weeks Purser hatched a plan, to make Mayfield the janitor of the art department.
Thirteen years before James Meredith integrated Ole Miss in 1962, Mayfield sat in a janitor's closet with the door ajar and listened to Professor Purser teaching art.
It can be imagined the risks taken during this volatile time in history.
None of this was by happenstance. Mayfield had art supplies and an easel in there.
The white students in the classroom knew about it which meant townsfolk would've known. Even William Faulkner became his patron of sorts.
It is unknown if the administration ever caught on, but if they had, they did not stop it.
The students and I'd imagine a good number of faculty members, as well as Faulkner, gave money for Mayfield's art supplies. They also raised funds to pay for Mayfield to visit the Art Institute of Chicago to see an exhibition by Vincent Van Gogh.
My point is Mayfield's story is based on a secret. Even now, in the shadows of the past, there's still an air of folklore to his story. The talented M.B. Mayfield's passion for creating led him on an amazing journey.
It is time for the secret to be told, and for those involved to be honored for their parts.
The premiere of Door Ajar – The M.B. Mayfield Story is on Sunday, February 10, 2019, at 10:00 am at Malco 1 - Malco Oxford Commons Cinema Grill. Oxford, Mississippi.
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John Reyer Afamasaga
Page Updated Last on: Apr 25, 2019