The Price of Defiance

The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss

CHARLES W. EAGLES
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 584
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807895597_eagles
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  • Book Info
    The Price of Defiance
    Book Description:

    After fighting a protracted legal battle, James Meredith broke the color barrier in 1962 as the first African American student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. The riot that followed his arrival on campus seriously wounded scores of U.S. marshals and killed two civilians, more casualties than any other clash of the civil rights era. To restore order, the Kennedy administration dispatched thousands of soldiers to Oxford.InThe Price of Defiance, Charles Eagles shows that the stunning eruption of violence resulted from the "closed society's" long defiance of the civil rights movement and federal law. Using many previously untapped sources, including FBI and U.S. marshal files, army and university records, and Meredith's personal papers, Eagles provides invaluable background for understanding the historic moment by demonstrating the university's--and Mississippi's--history of aggressive resistance to desegregation from the post-World War II years on, including the deliberate flouting of federal law. Ultimately, the price of such behavior--the price of defiance--was not only the murderous riot that rocked the nation and almost closed the university but also the nation's enduring scorn for Ole Miss and Mississippi. Eagles paints a remarkable portrait of Meredith himself by describing his unusual family background, his personal values, and his service in the U.S. Air Force, all of which prepared him for his experience at Ole Miss.Based on extraordinary research, Eagles vividly portrays the culture of segregation and the eventual desegregation of one of the last bastions of racial segregation, Ole Miss.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0506-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    After his first night in his dormitory room, James Meredith rode in a riot-battered border patrol car to the Lyceum building at the center of the University of Mississippi campus. Escorted by agents of the U.S. Justice Department, he observed the debris from the previous evening’s conflagration as he entered the Lyceum at 8:15 A.M. to register for classes. His enrollment on Monday, October 1, 1962, made him the first black student formally admitted to the school popularly known as Ole Miss, and indeed the first to breach racial segregation in the state’s system of higher education. The story of...

  4. PART 1 Ole Miss and Race
    • 1. “Welcome to Ole Miss, Where Everybody Speaks”
      (pp. 9-25)

      At the start of the 1960 football season,Sports Illustratedfeatured a full-page color photograph of a beautiful young woman and a handsome football player strolling hand in hand across the University of Mississippi campus.¹ Although many colleges had pretty women and good-looking male athletes, the article’s title, ‘‘Babes, Brutes, and Ole Miss,’’ seemed more applicable to Ole Miss than to its competitors.Sports Illustratedhad captured in a single image the university’s national reputation: it was, as the caption suggested, home to ‘‘ the best of both worlds,’’ beauty queens and winning football teams.²

      The university’s renown received powerful...

    • 2. Following Community Mores: J. D. Williams and Postwar Race Relations
      (pp. 26-40)

      In 1951, Chancellor J. D. Williams counseled a Kentucky colleague on the race question by recommending that he ‘‘follow the mores of the community in which you are located.’’ Acknowledging that no blacks attended Ole Miss, Williams explained that his university followed the will of the people: ‘‘We feel that as long as the people of Mississippi have indicated their desires by state law, there is no point in our taking a stand’’ on the question of racial integration. Throughout his twenty-two years as chancellor (1946–68), Williams worked to enhance the university within a context increasingly dominated by race....

    • 3. “I Love Colored People, but in Their Place”: Segregation at Ole Miss
      (pp. 41-59)

      Ole Miss had no black students in the 1940s and 1950s, but black workers on the campus nonetheless interacted in limited ways with white students, faculty, and staff. A complicated combination of customs, habits, rules, and laws regulated their contacts. Written rules and laws governed many aspects of race relations in post–World War II Mississippi, as they had for generations. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the state enacted laws to control relations between whites and Negroes. A series of statutes starting in 1888, for example, required racial segregation in transportation, and in 1922 a new law forbade taxis...

    • 4. “Negroes Who Didn’t Know Their Place”: Early Attempts at Integration
      (pp. 60-79)

      In October 1950, the editor of theMississippianendorsed racial integration. Though two hundred Negroes attended previously all-white southern colleges and universities, Ole Miss remained completely white. Defying the state’s rigid policy of segregation in higher education, Albin Krebs declared, “We believe that qualified Negroes should be allowed to enter the School of Law and any other professional schools.” Pointing to recent events in other southern states, Krebs predicted that Negroes would eventually apply to Ole Miss, and, although Mississippi might be the last state to have its segregation practices in higher education challenged, Krebs believed that the U.S. Supreme...

    • 5. Integration and Insanity: Clennon King in 1958
      (pp. 80-98)

      On June 5, 1958, Clennon Washington King arrived at Ole Miss to register for the first session of summer school. Weeks earlier, the black minister and college professor had announced his intention to break the color barrier, but unlike other blacks interested in attending the university, King actually went to Oxford. His family background and his experiences in Mississippi encouraged him to believe that he would be allowed to enroll, that he was prepared for such an intrepid move, and that conservative whites would support him. The results of his quixotic action surprised and disappointed King. Once again Mississippi demonstrated...

    • 6. They Will “Want to Dance with Our Girls”: Unwritten Rules and Rebel Athletics
      (pp. 99-116)

      In the wake of the 1954Browndecision, white Mississippians mobilized to defy desegregation, not just in public schools but in all areas of life. They interpretedBrownas a harbinger of greater threats to segregation and white supremacy. As one student of the Mississippi civil rights movement has observed, for segregationists “preserving the southern way of life soon assumed all the trappings of a holy crusade.”¹ Though before 1954 few could have doubted Mississippi whites’ commitment to segregation, after the court decision whites wasted no time in organizing their defense of the status quo. Initially they rallied private support,...

    • 7. “Mississippi Madness”: Will Campbell and Religious Emphasis Week
      (pp. 117-138)

      Barely three months after theBrowndecision, Reverend Will Campbell became director of religious life at Ole Miss. During the next two years, the Baptist minister helped coordinate a provocative religious program related to civil rights. His activities ran afoul of the state’s white supremacist orthodoxy and embroiled Ole Miss in controversy at the very time that violent resistance to racial change pervaded the state. In 1954 a special legislative session changed the conspiracy law to include attempts “to overthrow or violate segregation laws of this state.”¹ By 1955 segregationists had little tolerance for dissent. A controversy at Mississippi Southern...

    • 8. Nemesis of the Southern Way of Life—Jim Silver
      (pp. 139-159)

      Many alumni of Ole Miss and leaders in Mississippi knew Chancellor Williams because he spoke to alumni groups and worked with the political and economic elite, but few ordinary citizens would have recognized his name. Similarly, Dean Robert Farley of the law school had a strong reputation limited largely to the legal community. The best-known Ole Miss personality and a genuine hero to many was, of course, football coach Johnny Vaught. Another well-known representative of the university in the 1950s was James W. Silver, a history professor.

      Silver, who had taught American history at the university since 1936, was anything...

    • 9. “On the Brink of Disaster”: Defending States’ Rights, Anticommunism, and Segregation
      (pp. 160-180)

      “I know that communism is being taught by some professors at Ole Miss, and I believe the same is true for Mississippi State [College] and other state institutions,” charged Representative Hamer McKenzie of Benton County in January 1950. His allegations came at the height of a national furor over communist subversion. Branding the unnamed professors as fellow travelers, the twenty-six-year-old veteran and law student advocated a special committee to investigate the colleges and universities and to “take a broom and sweep our own backsteps while we are calling on the government to purge our enemies in Washington.”¹

      During the national...

    • 10. “Thought Control”: The Editor and the Professor
      (pp. 181-198)

      In the summer of 1960, W. A. Lufburrow, the executive secretary of the States’ Rights Council of Georgia, told William J. Simmons of the Citizens’ Council about the activities of Billy Barton, an Ole Miss student intern with theAtlanta Journal. Lufburrow’s information supposedly came from another intern, a student at Tulane University. According to the Georgia sources, Barton had participated in sit-ins and had become a protégé of Ralph McGill, the liberal editor of theAtlanta Constitution. In addition, Lufburrow reported Barton’s alleged friendship with P. D. East, the iconoclastic publisher of thePetal Paperin southern Mississippi; Barton...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  5. PART 2 James Meredith
    • 11. The Making of a Militant Conservative—J. H. Meredith
      (pp. 201-220)

      On January 26, 1961, a neatly typed letter arrived at the Ole Miss registrar’s office; it asked for an application for admission, a catalog, and any other useful information. As part of the daily mail in Robert B. Ellis’s office, the inquiry from a man on Maple Street in Jackson seemed unexceptional. Ellis and his staff later that day sent the materials and the standard reply: “We are very pleased to know of your interest in becoming a member of our student body.” And in closing, “If we can be of further help to you in making your enrollment plans,...

    • 12. “I Regret to Inform You . . .”
      (pp. 221-238)

      With the declaration that he was “not a White applicant,” James Meredith’s application caught Ole Miss officials only slightly by surprise. No Mississippi college or university had desegregated, but university leaders must have monitored changes across the South. If the slow desegregation of higher education frustrated many people, to white Mississippians the delays offered hope that it could be avoided. As 1961 began, the attack on segregated public universities escalated and threatened to render white resistance futile. On January 3, the first three black undergraduates enrolled at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; at the same time the university’s medical...

    • 13. Meredith v. Fair I: “Delay, Harassment, and Masterly Inactivity”
      (pp. 239-260)

      On May 31, 1961, on the fourth floor of the Meridian federal courthouse, James Meredith’s legal battle began before Judge Sidney Mize. LDF lawyers presented his grievances against the fifteen trustees, headed by Charles D. Fair, and three Ole Miss representatives, Chancellor Williams, Dean Lewis, and Registrar Ellis. The plaintiff wanted Judge Mize to rule on his right, and by implication the right of all blacks, to attend Ole Miss. Represented by Constance Motley, Meredith also sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the defendants from keeping him out of the university and to allow him to enroll for the...

    • 14. Meredith v. Fair II: A “Legal Jungle”
      (pp. 261-276)

      On February 5, 1962, two days after Judge Sidney Mize ruled that Ole Miss had not rejected James Meredith because of his race, and pending an appeal, Constance Motley asked the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to prohibit the university from blocking her client’s admission. Time was crucial: the spring semester began on February 6. The appeal warned that continued denial of admission could make the case moot because if Meredith returned to Jackson State College he could graduate in June. Asst. Atty. General Edward Cates repeated the denials of discrimination and warned of an injunction’s irreparable damage to...

    • 15. Negotiations: A Game of Checkers
      (pp. 277-296)

      TheMeridian Starhailed the struggle over James Meredith’s admission as “the battle of Armageddon between racial purity and mongrelization” and insisted, “We must prevail. We have too much to lose.”¹ Though Justice Hugo Black’s September 10 ruling may have seemed to resolve the legal case, the controversy only intensified. Focused on Meredith’s challenge, Mississippi’s leaders moved in multiple ways to shore up segregation. The governor preached defiance of the federal courts, a Jackson court convicted Meredith of a misdemeanor, and the legislature enacted laws to preserve segregation at Ole Miss. President Kennedy and his brother Robert, the attorney general,...

  6. PART 3 A Fortress of Segregation Falls
    • 16. Initial Skirmishing: September 20–25, 1962
      (pp. 299-318)

      On Thursday, September 20, James Meredith went to Oxford to register but was refused. In the following week he tried three more times, unsuccessfully. While he moved between Memphis, Oxford, and Jackson in his attempt to enroll, larger forces worked to assist or thwart him. The Kennedy administration tried for a peaceful solution, and the federal courts eliminated barriers to his registration. At the same time, Mississippi whites labored to prevent any breach in segregation. Governor Ross Barnett extended his secret negotiations with the Kennedys, and local courts acted to stymie Meredith. Sometimes the moves appeared orchestrated, but in other...

    • 17. Confrontations: September 26–30, 1962
      (pp. 319-339)

      “Everything all right down there?” Robert Kennedy asked Ross Barnett early Tuesday evening, shortly after the governor prevented Meredith’s attempt to enroll at the trustees’ office. The governor assured Kennedy that the crowd had only booed Meredith and cheered himself. When Barnett said that Meredith had not registered, Kennedy replied that Meredith “is going to show up at classes tomorrow.” Caught off guard, Barnett asked if that meant in Oxford and how Meredith could go to classes without first registering. He confessed, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. I don’t know what we will do. I didn’t dream...

    • 18. “A Maelstrom of Savagery and Hatred”: The Riot
      (pp. 340-370)

      In a modern version of David versus Goliath, Governor Ross Barnett, the rural Mississippian who had put himself through college working as a barber and door-to-door salesman, battled President John F. Kennedy, the Harvard-educated scion of a wealthy Boston family. Kennedy federalized the state’s National Guard and mobilized the army and the U.S. marshals to enforce the order of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals despite whatever opposition might develop. By late Sunday, September 30, the contest had devolved into an unforgettable night of chaotic violence as a “deserted peaceful campus” transformed in a few hours into “one of almost...

    • 19. “Prisoner of War in a Strange Struggle”: Meredith at Ole Miss
      (pp. 371-396)

      Monday morning after the riot, James Meredith skipped breakfast and went to the Lyceum. Escorted by John Doar, James McShane, and several marshals, he rode from Baxter Hall in a riot-damaged border patrol car. Dressed in a suit and tie, he entered the Lyceum for the first time at 8:15 A.M. and proceeded to the registrar’s office. In what the Associated Press called “a strange and eerie sight,” with tear gas lingering in the air, marshals and troops encircling the building, and a group of students protesting across the street, he matriculated at Ole Miss. After completing the necessary forms,...

    • 20. J. H. Meredith, Class of ’63
      (pp. 397-424)

      “I have concluded that the ‘Negro’ should not return to the University of Mississippi. The prospects for him are too unpromising,” announced James Meredith at a Jackson news conference on January 30, 1963. His statement stunned the fifty newsmen and one hundred African Americans in the Negro Masonic Temple’s auditorium, though one white newsman did applaud. Several reporters ran to phone in the story. “However,” he continued, “I have decided that I, J. H. Meredith, will register for the second semester at the University of Mississippi.” Applause and cheers greeted his declaration, but several local reporters looked dejected. “I see...

    • 21. “The Fight for Men’s Minds”
      (pp. 425-444)

      Ten days after the riot in the fall of 1962, a Scripps-Howard reporter concluded that in “the one battlefield that counts most: The fight for men’s minds,” desegregationists had won a major battle at Ole Miss. They had demonstrated dedication, intelligence, and a “willingness, if not an inclination, to martyrdom.” On the other side, the leaderless, “hodge-podge ‘troops’ ” of the segregationists seemed “as much anti-authority as anti-negro” and “manage[d] to terrorize even other Southerners.“ Refusing to be provoked, James Meredith “did not gloat” and did not make “a single public relations mistake,” while his opponents reacted with “obscene shouts”...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 445-542)
  8. Essay on Sources
    (pp. 543-546)
  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 547-548)
  10. Index
    (pp. 549-560)