An account of the conflict between federal forces and Governor Ross Barnett’s state police, along with thousands of civilians, over the racial integration of the all-white University of Mississippi in 1962.
Doyle, award-winning documentary producer and writer (Inside the Oval Office, 1999, etc.), resurrects the slide toward civil war in the fall of 1962 as Mississippi Governor Barnett and his state police troopers took a highly publicized stand against President Kennedy’s order to integrate the University of Mississippi. He introduces readers to young James Meredith, a US Army veteran and dedicated civil-rights activist, whose pursuit of entrance at the segregated university resulted in a federal court order requiring its racial integration. Doyle argues that Meredith’s insistence on attending the university in the face of militant state opposition and personal death threats forced Barnett and Kennedy to enter into backroom negotiations that would allow the governor to meet federal integration requirements and still save face. But each time federal marshals escorted Meredith to Oxford, Mississippi, to register for classes, Barnett broke his trust with the president, defying him with a show of force. Doyle shows how, as this pattern repeated itself, both sides caused southern anxiety to escalate to the point of hysteria. As federal authorities finally succeeded in moving Meredith into the university dorms, thousands of armed southerners converged on the campus to confront the US marshals responsible for the student’s safety. From the moment the mob fired the first shots at US marshals, Doyle shows how an American college campus turned into a full-scale battlefield. His vivid depiction of the terror and chaos that expanded across the city suggests that the our Civil War finally ended only as US National Guard and Army Airborne troops reestablished order in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1962.
Doyle’s exhaustive research and intense narrative should reach beyond the target audience of those who pursue civil rights and military issues.