Ole Miss riot of 1962

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Chief U.S. Marshal James McShane (left) and John Doar (right) of the Justice Department escorting James Meredith to class at Ole Miss.
Civil Rights Monument (statue of James Meredith) on the Ole Miss campus.

The Ole Miss riot of 1962 was fought between Southern segregationist civilians and federal and state forces as a result of the forced enrollment of black student James Meredith at the University of Mississippi (known affectionately as Ole Miss) at Oxford, Mississippi.

On September 30, 1962, James H. Meredith became the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi,[1] after being barred from entering on September 20 and several other occasions in the following days. His enrollment, publicly opposed by segregationist Governor Ross Barnett, sparked riots on the Oxford campus, which required the U.S. Marshals. Later on (federal) U.S. Army military police from the 503rd Military Police Battalion were sent by President John F. Kennedy. Troops from U.S. Border Patrol and Mississippi National Guard were called in, as well. U.S. Navy medical personnel (physicians and hospital corpsmen) attached to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Millington,TN were also sent to the university, equipped and trained to provide "battleground" care. The involvement of federal forces was opposed for a long time by the President and Attorney General Robert Kennedy for several reasons. Robert Kennedy had hoped that legal means, along with the escort of U.S. Marshals would be enough to force the Governor to comply.[2] He also was very concerned there might be a "mini-civil war" between the (federal) U.S. Army troops and armed protesters.[2] They reluctantly decided to involve federal forces after the protests turned violent.[3]

The riots led to a violent clash which left two people dead - French journalist Paul Guihard,[4] on assignment for the London Daily Sketch, who was found behind the Lyceum building with a gunshot wound to the back of the head; the second victim was 23-year-old Ray Gunter, a white jukebox repairman who came by out of curiosity. Gunter was found with a bullet wound in his forehead. Both deaths indicated execution-style killings.[5] Barnett was fined $10,000 and sentenced to jail for contempt, but the charges were later dismissed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Bob Dylan sang about the incident in his song "Oxford Town". Meredith's actions are regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in the United States. He graduated on August 18, 1963 with a degree in political science.[6]

Sports journalist Wright Thompson's 2010 article Ghosts of Mississippi[7] described the riot and inspired the 2012 ESPN 30 for 30 series documentary film "The Ghosts of Ole Miss" about the 1962 football team's perfect season and concurrent violence over integration of the segregated university.[8]


  1. ^ "1962: Mississippi race riots over first black student". BBC News - On this day. October 1, 1962. Retrieved 2007-10-02. 
  2. ^ a b Schlesinger 2002, 317-320.
  3. ^ Bryant 2006, 71.
  4. ^ "Though the Heavens Fall (5 of 7)". TIME. October 12, 1962. Retrieved 2007-10-03. 
  5. ^ Bryant 2006, 70-71.
  6. ^ Leslie M. Alexander; Walter C. Rucker (2010). Encyclopedia of African American History, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 890. 
  7. ^ Thompson, Wright (February 2010). "Ghosts of Mississippi". Outside the Lines. ESPN. Retrieved November 3, 2012. 
  8. ^ Thompson, Wright (October 30, 2012). "'Ghosts' a story of family, home". ESPN Films. ESPN.com. Retrieved November 3, 2012.