Skip to comments.Today In History; Judicial Power (Meredith-Ole Miss September 28-29, 1962)
Posted on 09/28/2007 6:44:36 AM PDT by Nextrush
Federal officials were increasingly concerned about the crowds of people coming to Oxford, Mississippi to oppose the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi.
Some were members of the Ku Klux Klan and violence was feared.
The goal of the Kennedy Administration remained to enforce the court order to admit Meredith with the minimum amount of force.
But the crowds were making that a more difficult proposition.
Among the opponents arriving in Oxford was Edwin Walker. Walker was the major-general who had commanded troops just five years before in Little Rock when the first nine black students attended Central High School under a federal court order.
Now General Walker was on the other side opposing federal intervention in Mississippi. He had resigned from the Army after coming under attack for using John Birch Society materials to indoctrinate soliders of the 24th Infantry Division in Germany.
The JBS believed that forces inside the United States government were helping Communist expansion in the world.
And General Walker and his fellow anti-communist conservatives saw the actions (or inactions) of the Kennedy Administration as proof of that view.
They were angered by Kennedy's refusal to give American air support at the Bay of Pigs when the freedom fighter air force sponsored by the United States government was unable to destroy Castro's air force.
When the Berlin Wall was built later in 1961 Kennedy was seen as weak because he failed to order U.S. forces in Berlin to tear down the wall.
Both these issues were weighing heavily on President Kennedy in the period of the crisis in Mississippi.
Republicans (with barely a month to go before midterm elections) were calling for military reserve call-ups to deal with Berlin and Cuba.
The president was only a few weeks ways from making Cuba his top priority in what would be known as the "Cuban Missile Crisis."
For General Walker and many other Americans intervention in Mississippi was wrong when the nation's priority should be fighting Communism.
Walker spoke to reporters about the need for people to come out with their camping gear, but never made any statements about violence as liberal interpreters chose to transate those comments.
Meanwhile events began to move rapidly with a contempt hearing for Governor Ross Barnett and Lieutenant Governor Paul Johnson in New Orleans.
The three judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found Barnett and Johnson in contempt and ordered them to be jailed starting Tuesday October 2nd.
Now the Kennedy Administration had an even more serious order to enforce that would have made both men martyrs.
The impetus was for a quick solution over the weekend before the Tuesday contempt sentence deadline.
Military units were placed on alert at 5 P.M. to move into position around Memphis for possible deployment into Oxford.
By Saturday September 29th Attorney General Robert Kennedy felt it was time for the president to become personally involved.
Kennedy aides like political advisor Kenneth O'Donnell and historian Arthur Schlesinger joined the Kenendy brothers in the Oval Office.
President Kennedy began direct phone talks with Governor Barnett.
The president discussed the contempt order with Barnett who said: "I want to think it over a few days."
Kennedy now tried to pressure him by saying: "The problem is I have my responsibility just like you have yours."
Hoping to use force short of military the Justice Department began to assemble a federal law enforcement force of 500. U.S. Marshals would be augmented by border patrol agents and prison guards deputized as marshals.
They assembled at the Memphis Naval Air Station and were equipped with white helmets, long night sticks and pistols.
Orders were drawn up to federalize the Mississippi National Guard.
On Saturday night Governor Barnett spoke during halftime at the Ole Miss-Kentucky football game in Jackson.
His short comments drew massive applause.
Barnett said: "I love Mississippi."
"I love her people."
"I love our customs."
The dragging on of negotiations between the president and governor delayed Kennedy's intention to take action Saturday night and make a speech to the nation.
But the delay was not going to last much longer......
Battle of Oxford:
Everything on James Meredith (fill in the search blanks):
Very interesting reading from actual historical State of Miss. documents.