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 enrollment of black student James Meredith at the University of Mississippi (known affectionately as Ole Miss) at Oxford, Mississippi. Two men were killed and dozens were wounded in the riot. He was asserting his constitutional and taxpayer rights, as the university is publicly funded. In 1954 the US Supreme Court had ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

On September 30, 1962, James H. Meredith became the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi.[1] His entrance had earlier been barred by segregationist Governor Ross Barnett. Students and white agitators broke out in a riot on the Oxford campus, which required intervention by the U.S. Marshals, who were reinforced by U.S. Army military police from the 503rd Military Police Battalion sent by President John F. Kennedy. He also ordered in troops from the U.S. Border Patrol and Mississippi National Guard. U.S. Navy medical personnel (physicians and hospital corpsmen) attached to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Millington, Tennessee were also sent to the university, trained to provide "battleground" care. The President and Attorney General Robert Kennedy had avoided using federal forces 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 U.S. Army troops and armed protesters.[2] These leaders reluctantly decided to involve federal forces after the protests turned violent.[3]

The riots resulted in the deaths of 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; and 23-year-old Ray Gunter, a white jukebox repairman who had visited the campus 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 wrote and sang about events in his "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]

Charles W. Eagle described Meredith's achievement by the following:

"In a major victory against white supremacy, he had inflicted a devastating blow to white massive resistance to the civil rights movement and had goaded the national government into using its overpowering force in support of the black freedom struggle."[7]

Representation in other media[edit]

Sports journalist Wright Thompson wrote an article "Ghosts of Mississippi," (2010),[8] that described the riot and the football team's season that year. It was adapted as a documentary film for the ESPN 30 for 30 series, entitled The Ghosts of Ole Miss, (2012), about the 1962 football team's perfect season and concurrent violence over integration of the segregated university.[9]


  • Because of the civil rights significance of Meredith's admission, the central university buildings where the riot took place have been designated as an historic district and National Historic Landmark.
  • A statue of Meredith on the campus commemorates his historic role.


  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. ^ Eagles, Charles W. (Spring 2009). "'The Fight for Men's Minds': The Aftermath of the Ole Miss Riot of 1962". The Journal of Mississippi History 71 (1): 1–53. , reprinted at Mississippi Department of Archives and History website, accessed 1 August 2014
  8. ^ Thompson, Wright (February 2010). "Ghosts of Mississippi". Outside the Lines. ESPN. Retrieved November 3, 2012. 
  9. ^ Thompson, Wright (October 30, 2012). "'Ghosts' a story of family, home". ESPN Films. ESPN.com. Retrieved November 3, 2012.