Ole Miss and 50 Years Ago


It was 50 years ago today that James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi.

We took a forward look at that in Monday’s edition with our coverage of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on the Ole Miss campus last week for the commemoration.

But if all you know about this date 50 years ago is the simple statement that James Meredith enrolled, you will have missed an extraordinary story about another time when our nation was engaged in a transformative debate about the nature of what was before us for so long but which many of us could not truly see for what it was.

And it was not an abstract discussion. If you don’t believe that, let me direct you to the one book on Ole Miss and James Meredith that you should read, if you read no other.

“An American Insurrection” by William Doyle was first published in 2001. It is a compelling story that follows James Meredith from watching President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration from a military base overseas and deciding to apply to Ole Miss to the insurrection that was the response to his simple action. It took military troops and federalized Mississippi National Guardsmen to quell that violent insurrection.

Doyle offers many new details including a point at which a group of armed Mississippi Highway Patrol officers were on their way to skirmish with U.S. Marshals convinced the federal forces had arrested the state’s Lt. Governor. They were just about to make the drive onto the campus when the Lt. Governor himself showed up and ordered them to stand down.

It’s a story whose outcome you would know just from the first line of this entry. But history is more than an outcome. It is the journey to that outcome that explains what happened to those who weren’t there. And for them as well as those who were there, it is a way of gauging where we are at present.