Ole Miss Riot

Published: 1962
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI

William Leiss: Two domestic stories were among the biggest stories of the year, and they rate number one and number two on the top ten selected by United Press International editors. We'll hear more about those stories in just one minute.

A mob has a grim and ugly face. Howard Hodgkins looked on the face of that mob when it shrieked and howled for the blood of a man.

The story of Oxford began early in 1962. James Meredith, veteran, married, wanted to complete his education. The college of his choice was Ole Miss. Generations of Southern boys and girls had walked its quiet corridors, but never had a known Negro gained admission. Meredith was destined to be the first.

He appealed to the courts, and the courts ordered Mississippi to open its classrooms. The shrillest voice against Meredith was the State's Governor, Ross Barnett.

Governor Ross Barnett: "And in order to preserve the truth, and in order to maintain and perpetuate the dignity and tranquility of the brave and tall State of Mississippi, under such proclamation do hereby, now and finally, deny you admission to the University of Mississippi."

William Leiss: Tension and anger mounted. Barnett's chief support came from extremist Southern groups. One-time General Edwin Walker threw his support behind the Governor …

General Edwin Walker: "Two phones are ringing every two minute. People are offering aid and assistance to go to the assistance of Governor Barnett. There has been a cable in here saying that 10,000 men from... and women from Louisiana will be there."

William Leiss: No direct assault put Meredith in college. He was slipped in quietly, unexpectedly through a side door, while hate, anger and roving mobs covered the City of Oxford.

Word of his admission whipped across the campus like a wild storm on a western prairie. Ole Miss erupted in riot.

Mass Federal Marshalls struggled to bring the riots to an end in a terrifying night of violence. Governor Barnett, perhaps frightened by the ogre his words and actions had created, cried for peace.

Governor Ross Barnett: "As Chief Executive of this great State, I now prayerfully urge each citizen to remain at home in his community. We must not have violence."

William Leiss: As night faded into a disturbed dawn, two men lay dead; dozens were injured. Federal troops began pouring into Oxford, but the rioting had not stopped …

Unknown Speaker: "While the news of the enrollment of 29-year-old Negro James Meredith spread through town, violence continues in downtown Oxford, but on a somewhat smaller scale. Crowds of adults and outsiders have swarmed over the square down at City Hall and have declared war on National Guardsmen and regular Army troops who tried to disperse them.

"Meanwhile, U.S. marine helicopters continue to swarm overhead, and military convoys keep arriving."

William Leiss: Peace came slowly to Oxford in the face of Federal strength, a tortured peace which still rests uneasily over a college and a way of life. James Meredith still attends classes under guard.