James Meredith and The Battle of Ole’ Miss

April 20, 2011 in 1960s-1970s, Social history

On September 30th, 1962, 127 U.S. Marshals stood guard in front of the central administrative building on the campus of the University of Mississippi.  Armed with hand guns and tear gas grenade launchers they looked across the campus greens to a growing crowd of threatening, aggravated and hostile students. Alongside the students stood members of the Mississippi Highway patrol with order of their own that contradicted that of the increasingly overwhelmed Marshals. What was the reason for these battle lines being drawn? September 30th was the registration day for a man named James Meredith, the first black student to attend Mississippi University and a major step toward the end of segregation.

That day will be forever remembered in the timeline of segregation history not only for the fact that James Meredith did in fact register but also the battle that ensued due to it. In an act of defiance against federal law, Ross Barrett the governor of Mississippi at the time had ordered his patrolmen to stop the registration of Meredith. The U.S. Marshalls had received their orders from President John F. Kennedy who had also given them the order not to fire their lethal weapons. The mod steadily intensified until around 7p.m. the tension broke a full on riot transpired. From bricks to birdshot the U.S. Marshalls were pummeled and by the end of the night 79 were seriously injured. It took the implementation of the teargas which the Marshals had to wait for permission to use as bricks smashed into their helmets and the arrival of reinforcements in the form of the newly federalized Mississippi National Guard before the rioters and students could be restrained. The Marshals had succeeded in integrating the University of Mississippi.

From the severity of the battle over James Meredith two U.S. Marshals were commissioned to escort Meredith everywhere he went, making sure that no harm came to him while attending the university. That night would be one of the most brutal nights of resistance towards integration and there are many significant points in the story. The most important being James Meredith himself with the perseverance to continue his fight for higher education, even against a force that nearly overwhelmed federal troops. The second is that of the U.S. Marshals who, had if not stayed true to their orders to not use deadly force, even when they were being fired upon themselves, could have been part of a truly devastating and bloody battle.

The story of James Meredith and the U.S. Marshals that defended him, along with the testimonies of Robert F. Kennedy and many other that were involved can be found in the U.S. Marshals history archive. It is a wonderful source for understanding the battle of “Ole Miss” and the surrounding factors.







2 responses to James Meredith and The Battle of Ole’ Miss

  1. It’s crazy to think about the courage and obstacles people went thorugh to go to school. I think we take it for granted a lot today on how lucky we really are. This story reminds me of The Little Rock Nine. It’s unbelievable that humans can act such a way to someone just becasue of their skin color. A lot of appreciation should be shown to those individuals who battled through it and didn’t give up becasue without them our country might not be how it is today. My only question is, in the second to last paragraph what made it “one of the most brutal nights?” I may have overread it, but I wasn’t very clear on that point.

  2. African-American students that wanted to attend college at this time had to do so in very bad circumstances such as this one at Ole Miss. After Brown v. Board all schools were suppose to be desegregated but this proved not to be the case. The problems that these students had to face not only at Ole Miss, but throughout all of the southern school, were worse than anyone could imagine. The federal government should be commended on their efforts to protect Meredith. Today students of all races and backgrounds can attend any school that they please and not have the fear that these students had. Those that made it through the Civil Rights command respect from everyone for the battles that they had to overcome.

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