Emmerich, J. Oliver

J. OLIVER EMMERICH was born in New Orleans in 1896 and grew up in McComb, MS. He graduated from Mississippi A & M College, now Mississippi State University, in 1918 after studying agriculture. After working as a county farm agent for a few years, he bought the McComb Enterprise newspaper. In the 1940s, he bought the McComb Journal and merged them to create the McComb Enterprise-Journal.

While he initially opposed civil rights policies in the 1940s and 1950s, he later changed his mind and became a stronger supporter of African American rights. Emmerich changed the way that blacks were portrayed in the McComb newspaper and began using courtesy titles to refer to them. During the Freedom Rides, the Enterprise-Journal opposed violence towards the Riders. When James Meredith was admitted to the University of Mississippi, Emmerich wrote an editorial opposing Governor Barnett’s actions. According to David R. Davies, “This editorial caused an organized effort for readers to cancel subscriptions and businesses to cancel advertising. The Enterprise-Journal‘s circulation dipped but returned to normal within six months.”

The newspaper also played a key role in the events in McComb during Freedom Summer in 1964. McComb faced a series of church bombings as well as other acts of violence in response to the Freedom Workers. The Enterprise-Journal faced opposition as well. “A cross was burned in front of Emmerich’s office,” says Davies, “and a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the window of his managing editor’s home. Another cross was burned on the front lawn of Emmerich’s home on the night the editor’s mother had died, though the Ku Klux Klan apologized when it learned of the coincidence.” The newspaper helped raise money to offer as reward for information on the church bombings and helped lead to the bombers’ arrests. In response to the violence, the paper published a “statement of principles” signed by 650 McComb citizens “urging a return to law and order, an end to harassment arrests, compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and greater communication between the races,” according to Davies. The statement gained national attention and recognition for McComb and Emmerich’s leadership.

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Davies, David R. Mississippi Journalists, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Closed Society, 1960-1964. 1997. http://ocean.otr.usm.edu/~w304644/missjourn.html