Forty years ago, James Meredith tried to integrate the University of Mississippi, and ignited an armed white rebellion in the nation's heartland. This riveting book re-creates the day the country went to war against itself.
Writer and documentary producer Doyle depicts the tumultuous events surrounding James Meredith's admission to the racially segregated University of Mississippi at Oxford in 1962. Descriptions of the dramatic and violent confrontation appear in virtually every recent book and film covering the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi. Doyle, however, shows Oxford in 1962 more as a battlefield than as one of many centers of social change. His is a story of heroes and villains, told as if he were describing a military invasion which, Doyle tells us, this was. To quell the rebellion against integration, President Kennedy not only sent federal marshals but also 30,000 combat soldiers. While Doyle's description is dramatic, it fails to provide an adequate context for what occurred before and after the focal events, unlike Nadine Cohodas's excellent The Band Played Dixie: Race and the Liberal Conscience at Old Miss (Free Pr., 1997). More disappointing is Doyle's inadequate closing, particularly given the energy with which he has told the narrative. He ends with a string of weak contradictions, providing very little to guide the reader through them. For large public libraries. Charles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2000
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Excerpt from An American Insurrection by William Doyle
The Past Is Never Dead
The past is never dead.
It's not even past.
-- William Faulkner
May 22, 1865, 9:00 A.M.: the Governor's Office, State Capitol, Jackson, Mississippi.
Forty-three days after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, a platoon of black Union troops with fixed bayonets stormed through the ruined streets of Jackson and onto the grounds of the Mississippi State Capitol building. The troops were led by white U.S. Army Brigadier General E. D. Osband. They marched toward the office of Governor Charles Clark.
Two days earlier, the soldiers had invaded the Mississippi state legislature, declared the gathering an illegal assembly, and dissolved it, waving the legislators out of the building at bayonet point. Now Governor Clark heard the measured clap of soldiers marching grow louder in the marble hallway, and presently General Osband appeared in the doorway.
The general saluted the governor, and read to him a proclamation by the president of the United States, dissolving Mississippi's government.
Governor Clark was an elderly, dignified veteran of the Mexican War whose limbs were shattered at the battle of Shiloh. The old man straightened his battered legs and struggled up onto his crutches.
"General Osband," the governor announced defiantly, "I denounce before high heaven and the civilized world this unparalleled act of tyranny and usurpation. I am the duly and constitutionally elected Governor of the State of Mississippi. I would resist, if it were in my power, to the last extremity the enforcement of your order. I yield obedience because I have no power to resist."
Within moments the federal troops invaded the executive office, seized the governor's office furniture, records, and the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi and escorted the governor out of the building. In that instant the government of Mississippi was decapitated, and the state was under the direct rule of President Andrew Johnson and his military.
They inherited a ruined, ravaged land. Before the Civil War, cotton-rich Mississippi was among the wealthiest members of the Union, but now the state was decimated, with families, fortunes, and entire cities wiped out. It was also home to multitudes of black Americans suddenly living in a strange twilight world where they were no longer slaves but not yet citizens.
After a brief failed experiment with presidential reconstruction by Andrew Johnson, the radical Republican Congress passed the sweeping Reconstruction Acts in 1867 to deliver civil rights to the newly freed black populations of the formerly Confederate states. In 1868 Mississippi adopted a state constitution that promised full political equality to blacks, and in 1870 Congress voted Mississippi back into the Union and federal martial rule ended.
For the next four years, Mississippi enjoyed a fleeting springtime of black political freedom, when black voters outnumbered enfranchised whites and African-Americans held such offices as lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and speaker of the state House of Representatives; they also became sheriffs in a number of counties. The state even sent two black men, Hiram A. Revels and Blanche K. Bruce, to the U.S. Senate.