Friday, September 26, 2008

Ole Miss

FROM TIME Magazine:

Friday, Oct. 05, 1962

It was recognized as the gravest conflict between federal and state authority since the Civil War. It hovered at the edge of violence and was filled with the potential of tragedy. Yet at times it seemed that the whole story was a farce being played out by sad-faced puppets.

The great gold eagle atop the State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., glistened nobly in the afternoon sun. Down below, a green automobile pulled up at a sidewalk packed with a rumbling crowd. Out stepped a dapper Negro, James H. Meredith, 29, native son of Mississippi, veteran of nine years in the U.S. Air Force, and would-be student at the University of Mississippi. A feeble smile flitted across his face as the crowd started booing.

Accompanied by two white men, Meredith entered an office building and boarded an elevator. As the three disappeared from sight, the crowd fell silent and broke into smaller groups, clustering about portable radios to listen to broadcasts of what was going on inside the building.

At the Doorway. Escorted by state troopers, the three visitors got off at the tenth floor, stepped into a smoky corridor jammed with newsmen, TV cameramen, and cops. "Get back!" the troopers shouted. "Get back! Everyone out of the way!" They pushed through the crowd, clearing a path to the door of Room 1007, the office of the state college board. Just as the newcomers reached the door, it swung open with theatrical timing. In the doorway stood Mississippi's greying, frosty-eyed Governor Ross R. Barnett.

"Governor Barnett," said one of the two men accompanying Meredith. "I'm John Doar of the Justice Department, sir. These papers. Governor, I'd like to present you with these papers." The other man, James McShane, Chief U.S. Marshal, fumblingly tried to hand Barnett a sheaf of court orders. In a sonorous drawl, Barnett said that as a matter of "policy" he could not accept any court orders. Doar, the No. 2 man in the Justice Department's civil rights division, persisted. "I want to remind you," he said, "that the Court of Appeals of the Fifth Circuit entered a temporary restraining order at 8:30 this morning enjoining you from interfering in any way with the registration of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi. We'd like to get on now, Governor, to the business of registering Mr. Meredith."

Barnett's reply was to draw a typewritten sheet of paper from a pocket and read off a "proclamation" addressed to Meredith. To "preserve the peace, dignity and tranquillity" of the state, rumbled Barnett, "I hereby finally deny you admission to the University of Mississippi." The palaver went on for a while longer, with Doar getting more and more plaintive. Finally, he made one last, limp try. "Do you refuse to permit us to come in the door?" he asked.

Barnett: Yes, sir.

Doar: All right. Thank you.

Barnett: I do that politely.

Doar: Thank you. We leave politely.

As the three men left the building and walked back to the car, the waiting crowd erupted in gleeful yells. "Goddam dirty nigger bastard," a teen-age boy shouted, "get out of here and stay out!"

Continue reading...

Fast forward 46 years.

Barack Obama, the first Black nominee for president of a major political party in the western world, will debate John McCain in the first presidential debate of this historic election at the University of Mississippi in less than four hours.

The Ku Klux Klan will not be allowed.

Not in hoods, anyway.

Not this time.

We've come a long way.

We have a long, long way to go.

An Obama administration will keep us headed in the right direction.



Anonymous said...

This is a great article Craig--especially for those who weren't around at the time.

Anonymous said...

I often wonder if I would have had the courage that James Meredith, Artherine Lucy and others had to do what they did....I hope that I would have, but I do wonder.