By Clara Turnage
University of Mississippi
This fall, a panel of speakers organized by the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics will discuss the violent integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962. Later, another panel will give three African-American women, leaders of major newsrooms in the South, an opportunity to speak out about the climate of journalism in America.
The juxtaposition of the two events was intentional, said Marquita Smith, assistant dean of graduate programs at the UM School of Journalism and New Media and 2022 Overby Center Fellow.
“It’s an incredible bond that we can have this conversation with three African American women from the top newspapers in the country,” said Smith, who will host the Oct. 5 event. “They’re involved because of the people we still stand on.”
The “James Meredith and the Media: The Legacy of a Riot” panel, at 5:30 p.m. on September 27 at the Overby Center, will feature Sidna Brower Mitchell, Kathleen Wickham and Curtis Wilkie, who plan to speak about the effects of the October 1, 1962 , riots as the university’s first African-American student, James Meredith, enters the campus.
Alumnus Jesse Holland, a journalist and professor at George Washington University, will host the event.
Wickham, a journalism professor at UM’s School of Journalism and New Media and author of several books on the civil rights era, researched the unsolved murder of the Agence France-Presse reporter Paul Guihard, who was shot in the back and killed during the riot. .
“I did extensive research on the only journalist murdered during the civil rights movement, Paul Guihard,” Wickham said. “I became his on-campus lawyer.”
Brower Mitchell, a senior in 1962, was editor of the Daily Mississippian and was harassed for calling for an end to the violence. Brower Mitchell, who went on to work at newspapers and a New Jersey state agency on affordable housing for decades after graduation, said she was spat on by sorority sisters and had received many letters and threats in response to his call for peace.
Wilkie, an acclaimed journalist, author, and former journalism professor at UM, was also a senior when Meredith first entered campus in 1962. After the riot, Wilkie wrote to her parents, detailing the events of the day, and included a map with the location of rioters and U.S. Marshals and where Guihard was murdered.
This letter is kept in the Archives and Special Collections Department of UM Libraries.
Brower Mitchell and Wilkie described the changes on campus after the riot. Armed guards lived on campus, students had to go through checkpoints to enter class, and students were under a curfew for several weeks.
“If it rained, it would bring out the smell of tear gas and people would cry again in the classrooms,” Wilkie said. “It was almost like living under martial law.”
The purpose of his editorial in The Daily Mississippian, titled “Violence Won’t Help,” was to remind students that the battle they had fought was long over, Brower Mitchell said.
“My theme was ‘Don’t Riot, Boys,” she said. “It was a riot that happened 100 years ago — and America won.”
The Overby Center will also host the “Sisterhood of Editors Panel,” featuring three African American women who lead newsrooms across the South, at 5:30 p.m. on October 5. Speakers, Katrice Hardy, Dallas Morning News; Mary Irby-Jones, a former UM who runs the Louisville Courier-Journal; and Jewell Walston of the Asheville Citizen-Times will discuss the difficulties and challenges of leading modern newsrooms, especially as black women.
Irby-Jones, who graduated in 1988 and was the first black editor of both The Clarion Ledger in Jackson and the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, said she always knew the impact of Meredith’s work on her life.
“Meredith’s contributions, her sacrifice to be part of Ole Miss at a time when it was very difficult is something that I admire and have known about since I started watching Ole Miss,” Irby-Jones said. “I grew up very poor in rural Mississippi. If it weren’t for him and the sacrifices he made, I wouldn’t be where I am today.