Integration of Ole Miss

(September 30-October 1, 1962) Lafayette County is the home of the University of Mississippi in Oxford. With buzz growing around the campus of Ole Miss possibly integrating in 1962, a national spotlight was turned on the campus. James Meredith, the first black student to attend Ole Miss, enrolled required federal protection and escort. Meredith was opposed by many, including Governor Ross Barnett and Lieutenant Governor Paul B. Johnson. Lt. Gov. Johnson briefly stood in the doorway of the Lyceum to block Meredith’s enrollment, though privately he and Governor Barnett negotiated with Attorney General Robert Kennedy on the nature of the federal protection for Meredith.

On the afternoon of September 30, 1962, U.S Justice Department officials along with federal marshals began to take their positions upon arrival on the campus of Ole Miss.

On that same afternoon the U.S. Marshals began to line up along the front of the administration building known as the Lyceum in anticipation of a crowd of hecklers.

Chief U.S. Marshal McShane was ordered to bring in the rest of the marshals from the airport and to secure the perimeter of Baxter Hall, located several buildings away from the Lyceum. Later that evening, a convoy transporting James Meredith from the airport arrived onto campus and stopped at Baxter Hall where they waited for more protection as crowds began to grow at the Lyceum. Baxter Hall would also be the dorm in which James Meredith would stay during his time at Ole Miss.

After forming in front of the Lyceum, rioters began to throw objects at federal forces. In return, tear gas was deployed onto the crowd by U.S. Marshals. The National Guard was deployed to assist at the Lyceum, arriving a few hours after midnight on September 31. Within minutes the Lyceum turned into a terror zone with bullets bouncing off the Lyceum columns and property catching fire.

During the riots, Ray Gunter, an Oxford resident, was sitting around the construction site of Shoemaker Hall with a friend when the crowd of rioters came toward them. When the two began to flee the site, Gunter was shot to death in the head in front of Shoemaker Hall. French journalist Paul Guihard was also killed during the riots.

On October 1, 1962 James Meredith was escorted by U.S. Justice Department Attorney John Doar and marshals to the Lyceum to register for admission. James Meredith attended his first class, American History, at Bondurant Hall under heavy protection by federal forces.

James Meredith graduated from the university in August of 1963, becoming the first African-American to graduate from the University of Mississippi.

Sources:

“We Cannot Walk Alone Exhibition” Olemiss.edu. 15 November 2006
<http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/general_library/files/archives/exhibits/civilrights/aa/burns.html>

Nelms, Chuck. “Thoughts and Recollections of Ole Miss Fall of 1962.” Feb 4 1991. Jun 2006 <http://www.llf.lib.ms.us/winnebago/LLF/Oral%20Histories/NELMS2.htm>

“Integrating Ole Miss.” Integrating Ole Miss: A Civil Rights Milestone. June 2002. John F. Kennedy Library. Jun 2006 <http://www.jfklibrary.org/meredith/home.html>

Sobotka, C. John Jr. A History of Lafayette County, Mississippi. Oxford, MS: Rebel Press, 1976.