The Integration of Ole Miss: A Riot that was Deadly and Transformative

2 Posted by - February 3, 2023 - Black History, BLACK POWER

October 1, 1962, marks the admission of the first African-American student, James Meredith to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), which is one of the supporters of the Old South. According to famous historians, the integration of Ole Miss started with the eruption of the Oxford town that involved around 30,000 U.S. troops, national guardsmen, and federal marshals to take James Meredith to class after campus chaos. This riot killed two and injured more than 300 people. The integration of Ole Miss is usually considered the last clash of the Civil Wars.

The riot involved a great showdown between President J. F. Kennedy and the Governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett. The governor declared that he is the cause of Mississippi segregation and feels proud of it. Barnett promised everyone publically that he wouldn’t let Meredith enter the premises of Oxford, until and unless he gets an order from the federal court. But privately, he was trying to have a compromise with President Kennedy. Later, Barnett wanted to save himself by defending the segregationist law while President Kennedy told him that he had the responsibility to hold the federal law and the situation should be taken care most amicably to avoid any causality.

After two months, on September 29, 1962, President Kennedy deployed federal marshals to Oxford. In reply to this, Barnett made a fiery speech at an Ole Miss game. He said that he loves Mississippi, its people, and its heritage. After the speech, one of the History professors on Ole Miss, Chuck Ross said that the speech was like firing on the Fort Sumter in 1861. Ross was also the director of the African-American studies program at the university.

The journey was tough, and Meredith’s admission to his class was in great danger. On September 30, 1962, hundreds of white protesters and students from the region gathered at the campus. They moved towards the Lyceum, a columned building where Meredith had to register. It was chaos everywhere, as marshals surrounded the Lyceum, there was the intense usage of tear gas, and people began to throw bottles and rocks. Luckily, President Kennedy released the orders to activate the Mississippi National Guard and also called the Army troops. By the morning of October 1, the Ole Miss riot was over, and the marshals accompanied Meredith to his first class at the University of Mississippi.

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