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The U.S. Marshals and the Integration of the University of Mississippi:  Holding Firm

U.S. Marshals historian David Turk said the stress and strain on all involved parties finally broke loose at about 7 p.m. The scene outside the Lyceum turned to mayhem.  “Angry forces of students and bystanders confronted the deputies, viewing them as unwelcome agents of change. The crowd was not adequately restrained by state authorities, and a battle of bricks and bottles followed. Then the violence graduated to buckshot and teargas.”

Deputy U.S. Marshals defending the Lyceum Building

Many of the rioters gathered their stones and bricks from Shoemaker Hall, a nearby science building under construction. Ray Gunter, 23, an Oxford, Miss., resident, climbed atop a pile of construction material with a friend.

When the rowdy crowd turned toward them they both ran for cover, but a bullet struck Gunter in the head.  He died, and authorities never discovered who fired that shot.

The confrontation between the mob and the deputies raged on. “Stones were getting larger ... [and there were] some broken concrete chunks slightly smaller than a football with wire handles attached,” Staple said. “This
allowed the stronger athletes to throw them completely across the street — breaking anything or anybody they hit.” Taunts became roars of disapproval as violence continued on the rise. Explosive Molotov cocktails were soon thrown into the mix as some of the rioters cranked their barbarism up a notch.

Then, some of the deputies were hit with birdshot fired at them by snipers positioned behind a grove of bushes and trees out in front of the Lyceum. Former Southern Indiana Deputy Gene Same was shot in the neck.  The deputies were still restricted to shoot back, but an order finally came allowing them to use teargas on the offenders. This gained them a little space — and a bit of a respite — but only for brief periods of time.  “They fought with their backs to the wall,” Doyle said. “One official compared it to the Alamo.”

Added former Deputy Don Forsht, 75, of Miami, “We had a group of guys who had their act together. They had true grit. They were going to do their job come hell or high water.”  A group of the deputies then circled around to where some rioters were gathering more stones to throw. Fighting intensified.

“During this skirmish,” Staplesaid, “they threw anything they had. I was hit with, probably, a brick. Other [deputies] were also hit. But we prevailed in routing them and it felt good to fight back for a change.” Some rioters even commandeered a bulldozer and used it to try and ram the front of the Lyceum. And twice they attempted the same thing with a stolencampus fire truck. But the deputies subdued the vehicles with Magnum rounds.

The earliest backup came from Mississippi National Guard soldiers, whom the president federalized. These reinforcements were a welcome sight to the out-numbered deputy marshals, but they were quickly attacked by many of the rioters.

“The first relief forces from the outside were small in number, and their leader, Mississippi National Guard Captain Murry Falkner [sic] — nephew of author William Faulkner — had his arm shattered by a brickbat,” said Turk.

The chaos continued.  There was no end in sight until U.S. Army soldiers from the Fort Bragg, N.C., Company A, 503rd MP Battalion arrived just before daybreak.

“In a loud audible voice the [unit’s] lieutenant ordered, ‘Load and lock and fire when fired upon,’” Staple said. “In unison, the bolts of their M-1 bayoneted carbines racked back and loaded with one loud, distinctive metallic sound so familiar to all firearms users.  “That seemed to me to be the decisive point of the struggle for control of Ole Miss.”

Continued:  Page One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight

Read about the past | Trouble Brewing | Holding Firm | Continued Protection | Robert Kennedy's Statement
The Present: 40 Years Later | The 40th Year Commemoration | Message from Director Benigno Reyna

 
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