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Remembering the fallen

The fires of revulsion spread wildly and untamed in Mississippi and on The University of Mississippi’s campus on Sept. 30, 1962, injuring several people and resulting in the death of two men.
 
It was on this day that 29-year-old James Meredith made history by becoming the first black student admitted to Ole Miss.
 
However, his arrival in Oxford and admittance into the university provoked a riot that resulted in chaos across the campus.
 
The riot, known to some as the Battle of Oxford, was fought between Southern segregationist civilians and federal forces.
 
President John F. Kennedy sent 400 U.S. marshals to guard Meredith. “My federal escorts couldn’t find anyone at the school to register me when I arrived,” James Meredith wrote in his book, “A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America.”
 
“For lack of any other plan, several hundred marshals surrounded the university Lyceum building, the administration building and registration office. This served as a decoy to make people think I was in that building so as to divert any attention and violence from me where I was located one quarter mile away in Baxter Hall, where I remained with a force of 24 United States Marshals as body guards,” Meredith wrote.
 
While Kennedy was making an appeal on national television, asking the state of Mississippi to comply with federal law, students and civilians were already in hand-to-hand combat with deputy marshals. The spark that ignited the riot was the arrival of the first groups of news reporters from around the U.S. and overseas.
 
The riot raged for several hours and included the throwing of bricks, pipes and Molotov cocktails at federal officials. By the end of the evening, nearly 30,000 troops had been deployed to Oxford, 200 marshals were wounded, 200 protesters were arrested and two people were killed.
 
Bobby King, a Corinth native, was a journalism senior at The University of Mississippi when Meredith attended Ole Miss.
 
Although he did not fight in the riot, King was on campus when it took place.
 
“I could hear the gunshots from my dorm, I could see the flicker of flames from cars burning and I could even smell a hint of the tear gas throughout the evening,” King said.
 
“Around 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., several jeeps and ambulances started picking up people and taking them to the infirmary. Everyone that was injured was male and white. Nobody was really critically injured, just mostly bumps, bruises and busted heads and arms. I talked to a few people, and they said that most of the people fighting in the Grove and Circle were outsiders, not students.”
 
While most people walked away with a few cuts and bruises, two people died in the riot, French journalist Paul Guihard and 23-year-old Oxford resident Ray Gunter. Gunter and a friend were watching the riot from the top of construction material near Shoemaker Hall, according to the U.S. Marshals Service website.
 
When the disorderly crowd turned toward them, Gunter and his friend ran for cover. However, a bullet struck Gunter in the head, killing him. Authorities never discovered who fired the shot. No more information about Gunter was ever revealed.
 
Guihard, a 30-year-old French reporter, was killed around 9 p.m. that night. The journalist, known as “Flash” by his fellow reporters, was a New York-based correspondent for Agence France-Presse and The London Daily Sketch who had been assigned to cover this story.
 
An unknown assassin by the Lyceum shot him in the back at point-blank range. According to investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell in an article for The Clarion-Ledger, Guihard’s killers left him to die in hopes of keeping him from spreading the truth.
 
Right before his death, Guihard wrote of the frenzied atmosphere, saying “People are not at all aware of the enormity of their gesture, of its repercussions and of the interest it is creating all over the world.”
 
His words were printed the next day by Agence France-Press, and they included his observation that the riot was “the most serious constitutional crisis ever experienced by the United States since the war of secession.”
 
Guihard’s death added a decisive international breadth to the civil rights movement, stirring indignation and drawing world media attention. In his last dispatch, made the day he was killed, he said, “The Civil War has never ended.”
 
On Sept. 30, 2010, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media revealed a plaque in honor of Paul Guihard. The presenters of the plaque were associate professor of journalism Kathleen Wickham and John Seigenthaler, an award-winning journalist whose 43-year career in journalism included the roles of editor, publisher and CEO of Nashville’s The Tennessean.
 
“About a year ago, the Society of Professional Journalists named the campus of The University of Mississippi as a national historic site in journalism,” Wickham said.
 
“We were the 100th site designated by the SPJ, and it was because of the work that reporters did here on September 30. More than 300 reporters were here during that time period when James Meredith integrated the university.”
 
The 50th anniversary of the integration of Ole Miss is a time not only to celebrate how far we have come, but also to remember the sacrifices it took to get here.