45 Years Ago in News History: Integrating Ole Miss
On Oct. 1, 1962, amid bloody rioting and under heavy guard, 29-year-old James Meredith achieved something that no other black man or woman in the state of Mississippi had ever done before: He attended classes at the University of Mississippi.
Meredith, a transfer student from all-black Jackson State College, had applied to Ole Miss the previous year but was rejected.
In an address Sept. 13 to the people of Mississippi accusing “the unfriendly liberal press and other troublemakers” for “instigating strife among our people,” Gov. Ross Barnett vowed to keep the state’s schools white.
“I have said in every county in Mississippi that no school in our state will be integrated while I am your governor,” he said. “I shall do everything in my power to prevent integration in our schools.”
Violence erupted Sept. 30, when approximately 2,000 segregationists and students, defying a court order to admit Meredith, clashed with U.S. marshals and federal troops. The 15-hour riot, which extended off campus to downtown Oxford, left two men dead, including Paul Guihard, a reporter for Agence France-Presse.
The 30-year-old reporter was shot in the back in front of a women’s dormitory 10 minutes after rioting had broken out. In his last dispatch Guihard wrote: “It is difficult to believe that you are in the very center of the gravest constitutional crisis that the United States has known since the War of the Secession.”
He added, “The mob sings and laughs under the hot October sun, and from the first minute one realizes that this mob is completely unconscious of the enormity of its gesture, of its repercussions, and the interest which it excites throughout the whole world.”
Guihard is one of nearly 1,800 journalists honored on the Newseum’s Journalists Memorial, a two-story glass structure bearing the names of reporters, photographers, editors and broadcasters who have died in the line of duty.
Meredith’s graduation from Ole Miss the following year was uneventful, lacking any of the turbulence that marked his registration. The story about his enrollment at Ole Miss can be found in the News History gallery in the new Newseum.
*Although James Meredith was the first to officially enroll at the University of Mississippi as a black man, Harry S. Murphy Jr. of New York, a black Navy veteran with a fair complexion, said in 1962 that he had attended Ole Miss from 1945 to 1946 as a full-time student. Murphy said he was listed as Caucasian, and neither the Navy nor Ole Miss officials realized that he was black. Murphy, according to his mother, “looked much like the others, and they couldn’t tell the difference. … Nobody would ever know he was a colored man.”