30, 1962: Ole Miss riot
Ole Miss riot erupts as James Meredith prepares to attend his first
class. Some three thousand individuals, including students, local citizens,
and Klan groups from Florida to Texas, encouraged by previous remarks made
by Governor Ross Barnett against desegregation, fought against U.S. Marshals
with bricks, sticks, bottles, and homemade bombs. After doing all he could
to avoid it, President Kennedy finally ordered more than twenty thousand
U.S. Army soldiers, headquartered in nearby Memphis, to restore order on
the campus. When it ended, two people were dead and sixty marshals had
SEE ALSO: http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/meredith_james/
on the play button to hear the following excerpt.
Total time: 1 minute, 54 seconds
Well, Barnett kept trying his best to figure out a way that
he could uphold the confidence of his people and his philosophy but, at
the same time, not risk anything with the federal government. So, I remember
that Gene Wirth was city editor of The Clarion Ledger and a good friend
of Barnett. He suggested to Barnett that Barnett and all the marshals—he
didn't know how many there'd be, twenty-five, thirty—came to Ole Miss with
James Meredith, and Barnett stood in the front of them to block the entrance,
that he asked one of the marshals to pull a gun on him. "OK. Get out of
our way so we can go in here and enroll James Meredith." And Barnett said
it would be very, very embarrassing if just one gun made him do that. He
wanted all the marshals to pull their guns on him. As it turned out, of
course, it never happened because Barnett was not up there when it came
about. But that was the plan. The plan was that all the marshals—and the
Kennedys on that tape, if you see the tape, they said, "We can't do that.
That will start a riot." Everybody pulling their gun. You know. But Barnett
and Lt. Gov. Paul Johnson told Bobby Kennedy, "All of them have got to
pull their guns." It was Barnett's idea to make a show of force. I really
think he would have much preferred it if the marshals, four or five of
them, had bodily picked him up and carried him out screaming and kicking.
Then Meredith could have gone in, but Barnett could say, "Well, I couldn't
fight them all. I couldn't beat them all."
Click on the
play button to hear the following excerpt.
Total time: 31 seconds
I talked to a lot of reporters who were there. I wasn't there
myself, but I know it's apparent that it depends on which side of the Lyceum
Building you were on. On one side over here, the people there—and I'll
say, "people," because they were not all students. In fact, one Ole Miss
professor told me they were the kind of people you would look at if you
turned up a board in the forest and saw the vermin coming out. They were
pelting the marshals with bottles and all like that.
-- Erle Johnston
Erle Johnston is a former director (1963-1968) of the Mississippi State
Sovereignty Commission. Prior to accepting this position, Johnston worked
as the Sovereignty Commission's public relations director (1960-1963).
In this role, he coordinated a speakers bureau that had the goal of "telling
the real truth" about Mississippi and its race relations.