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September 30, 1962: Ole Miss riot go to audio

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 been injured.


audioClick 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."

audioClick 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.