History, Indeed

October 1, 1962

The scenes portrayed in the front-page photographs are surreal: a caravan of U.S. Army trucks filled with federal marshals rumbling down Sorority Row at Ole Miss; marshals with gas masks struggling to quell a campus riot.

Two Men Are Dead in Campus Rioting
After Meredith Is Escorted to Dormitory;
Soldiers Try To Restore Order At Ole Miss

Meredith, of course, is James Meredith, the university’s first black student, who came by helicopter to campus over the objection of state officials and surrounded by federal agents.

Looking back: Photographer Bob Williams, now 91, recalls the smell of tear gas in the air when he captured this moment after having spent three days on campus without sleep. At one point, Williams said he penetrated the convoy of federal vehicles from the airport to campus, the agents honking and demanding he fall back. But a determined Williams stayed put. When the lead federal agent blocked him from getting close, Williams said he pleaded his case.

I said, ‘This is history. I need to make a picture.’ He backed off and let me by.

History, indeed.

U.S. Army trucks ringed the Oxford, Miss. courthouse and soldiers blocked off entrances to the square October 1, 1962, in the wake of demonstrations that spread from the University of Mississippi campus to downtown following the admission of James Meredith, the first black student enrolled at Ole Miss. The eve of his admission was marked by riots that killed two people and injured more than one hundred. The square remained virtually deserted throughout the day. (Robert Williams/The Commercial Appea)