The Unheralded Heroes of Oxford, 1962
THE UNHERALDED HEROES OF OXFORD, 1962
The U.S. Marshals of the Border Patrol by Lucinda Rainbolt-Scola
This article is intended to remember and celebrate the service of 300 brave and courageous U.S. Border Patrolmen who made a difference in our American lives as they stood on the campus of the University of Mississippi and fought off nearly 2,500 angry citizens and students. This mob of people were fighting the threat of integration on the Ole Miss campus which up until now had always been a segregated school.
It was the Fall of 1962. These Border Patrolmen were on site at Oxford by special invitation of the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and from the U.S. Attorney General, Mr. Robert Kennedy. The mission of these agents was to first be deputized as U.S. Marshals upon arrival at the airport in Oxford, to bring order out of chaos, to protect the complainant Mr. James Meredith, and to enforce the laws of our nation by seeing to it that Mr. Meredith enrolled into the University and attended his classes without interruption.
It was approaching the end of September – the leaves were falling from the trees and the night air was chilling. Monitoring the situation in Mississippi closely, President Kennedy and Attorney General Kennedy could see early on that things in that location were reaching crisis proportions. One of the reasons why was because the Governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, was personally and publicly defying orders from the Federal Government to step aside and allow a young black man by the name of James Meredith, 29, to enroll in the University of Mississippi. In one statewide television broadcast, Barnett stated, “Mississippi will not surrender to the evil and illegal forces of tyranny,and ”no school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your Governor”. (U.S. Marshal Historical Perspective, see link below).
Later, the Supreme Court would rule in favor of Mr. Meredith’s attending classes. The U.S. Marshals, hand-picked from Immigration Patrol Inspectors all over the country, were ready to roll. They were ordered not to use the pistols they had tucked away under their suit jackets. Instead, they could use gas masks, teargas canisters, vests, riot batons & riot guns. When the first federalized troops appeared with the U.S. Marshals on campus, they were the Mississippi National Guard. Later, while the riots were in progress, U.S. Army soldiers from Ft. Bragg, N.C., Company A, 503 MP Battalion arrived. The scene suddenly added the use of rifles and bayonets.
A PERSONAL NOTE: My Father, ELMO M. RAINBOLT, passed away in January of 2006. He spent his career with the U.S. Border Patrol as Chief Patrol Inspector for the Miami Sector during the Cuban Crisis, and he was also Chief Patrol Inspector for the Yuma, AZ. Sector. He was among these brave and courageous 300 U.S. Immigration Patrol Inspectors who were transformed into U. S. Marshals and his picture appeared in LIFE MAGAZINE, Vol. 53, No 15, at the bottom of Page 38. His picture as a U.S. Marshal also appears in the U.S. Marshals website as part of their HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE – The Integration of the University of Mississippi. (Link below) He received commendations in writing by the President of the United States and from Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He was the Father of 5 proud children, 2 grandchildren and was the loving husband to June. I asked my Father one time just what he thought about James Meredith. He stood there for a while and then assumed the “John Wayne” stance with a hand on each hip and he said nothing. He just looked down at the floor and shook his head. I wondered if that was my Dad’s way of saying that it was all “just unbelievable”.
Indeed it was unbelievable, and by the time it would end at Oxford, Mississippi, two men would die and hundreds of other people (Marshals included) would be injured. THE VIOLENCE: The vicious mob gathered around the Federal Marshals as they looped themselves around the Lyceum Building—one man standing every 15 feet apart from the other. In the meantime, James Meredith was being flown into Oxford in a Border Patrol plane. His car caravan headed in the direction of the Baxter Hall campus where they dropped Meredith off along with 24 Marshals to stand guard. Some of the Marshals were holed up inside the Lyceum as the mob was throwing bricks, Molotov cocktails, and were attacking with weapons like baseball bats, sticks with nails in them, guns and even a bulldozer. Three students commandeered a bulldozer and tried to attack the Marshals standing in line around the building. A Marshal was able to throw tear gas at them after they rammed a tree with their bulldozer. They were stopped. Inside the Lyceum, the Army officials were calling on their radio for assistance as the tear gas supplies were dangerously low. One could hear this official say on his radio that they could hang on another 20 minutes but needed help badly. (LIFE)
The hallways inside the Lyceum were lined with wounded from both sides of the battleground. The womens restroom had been turned into a field hospital. In the hallway, there was a Marshal lying on the floor injured from a brick; there was a student standing over in the corner throwing up after he’d smelled tear gas; and then there was a Marshal who got hit with buckshot in the neck and to tell you the truth, I don’t know if he survived. The mob was vicious and obnoxious now. They saw law enforcement and anyone who had the white hats with the “U.S. Marshal” stenciled on them as their enemy. One Marshal sat in his car with his wife when suddenly, an angry mob of people jumped the car and began to break the windows. Then the group tried to attack the Marshal and his wife. Had they not been rescued by state law enforcement officers, this couple might have been killed or seriously injured. Finally, here’s how I view the whole situation, some people spend a lifetime wishing they could make a difference in their own lives and/or in the lives of others. In our peaceful, decent and intellectual society, we associate the words “making a difference” with someone who does a good deed and not the kind of deed where a person commits a crime or causes violence to take place in order to stand before his community and claim that he has done a good thing. These 300 U.S. Immigration Patrol Inspectors/U.S. Marshals who did their jobs and made us proud in 1962 are, MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT, the unheralded heroes of that time period. When it came to making a difference in all of our lives, these warriors succeeded in their mission.
With their supervision and protection, Mr. James Meredith enrolled in the University of Mississippi and attended his classes uninterrupted, and for the next year his protection from the U.S. Marshals continued. Because of their skills, their honor and integrity, our Border Patrolmen/Marshals made international as well as nationwide changes to human life and made history for all to see and remember. Their story has appeared in many books. It has appeared in LIFE MAGAZINE, October 12, 1962, Vol. 53, No. 12, on Pages 32-44. It has appeared on the BBC News historical website (see link below), and the thorough story of Oxford and the U.S. Marshals can be seen on their website and Historical Perspective. (Link below) We didn’t just make a little history—we made a HUGE DIFFERENCE. These U.S. Immigration Patrol Inspectors turned U.S. Marshals, and all the other Federal Employees who were sent to help at Oxford on the campus of Ole Miss, made a difference in the life of one James H. Meredith. He will never forget it.
LIFE MAGAZINE, October 12, 1962, Vol. 53, No. 15, Pages 32-44 BBC News/”On This Day” October 1, 1962: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/1/newsid_2538000/2538169.stm
Our Border Patrol Agents have continued to make us all proud. I thank them for their service, love for our country and loyalty to it and the American people.