An American Insurrection: James Meredith and the Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962

Doyle, William

Published by Anchor, 2003
ISBN 10: 0385499701 / ISBN 13: 9780385499705
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Synopsis: In 1961, a black veteran named James Meredith applied for admission to the University of Mississippi — and launched a legal revolt against white supremacy in the most segregated state in America. Meredith’s challenge ultimately triggered what Time magazine called “the gravest conflict between federal and state authority since the Civil War,” a crisis that on September 30, 1962, exploded into a chaotic battle between thousands of white civilians and a small corps of federal marshals. To crush the insurrection, President John F. Kennedy ordered a lightning invasion of Mississippi by over 20,000 U.S. combat infantry, paratroopers, military police, and National Guard troops.

Based on years of intensive research, including over 500 interviews, JFK’s White House tapes, and 9,000 pages of FBI files, An American Insurrection is a minute-by-minute account of the crisis. William Doyle offers intimate portraits of the key players, from James Meredith to the segregationist Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, to President John F. Kennedy and the federal marshals and soldiers who risked their lives to uphold the Constitution. The defeat of the segregationist uprising in Oxford was a turning point in the civil rights struggle, and An American Insurrection brings this largely forgotten event to life in all its drama, stunning detail, and historical importance.

Review: William Doyle, author of Inside the Oval Office, calls the forced integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962 "the biggest domestic military crisis of the twentieth century." In An American Insurrection, he delivers a blow-by-blow account of how the school, popularly known as Ole Miss, was opened to black students for the first time. At the center of the tale is James Meredith, a determined but unusual hero gripped by what Doyle calls "an almost messianic vision of destroying the system of white supremacy in Mississippi." Meredith was one of the first black men to serve in the armed forces following its integration, enlisting right out of high school in 1951. He later decided to seek a college education and resolved to get his degree from the all-white precincts of Ole Miss. Through clever plotting and the assistance of a beleaguered civil rights movement, Meredith won admittance to the school, but his troubles had only just begun. Thousands of segregationists descended upon Oxford, Mississippi, to block Meredith from attending class. Their numbers included students, state police, governor Ross Barnett, and an assortment of troublemakers with no real ties to the university. Through it all, Meredith "succeeded in forcing three new allies to his side: the president of the United States, the U.S. Justice Department, and the most powerful military machine in history."

The story recounted in An American Insurrection is inspiring, and Doyle tells it well. It is also fresh, because it has been forgotten in a way other epic civil rights struggles--at Little Rock and Selma, for instance--have not. Meredith never took his place beside Rosa Parks as a celebrated hero of the civil rights movement; its leaders wound up regarding him as something of an annoyance. As Doyle writes, "Meredith maintained a ruthless, jarring intellectual integrity and courage that considered the traditional discussion of civil rights as an insult to him as an American citizen, as invalid, even preposterous." The key word is "jarring": Meredith spent his later years rebuking the NAACP and working for conservative senator Jesse Helms. Admirers of Diane McWhorter's Carry Me Home and other readers interested in the civil rights movement will enjoy An American Insurrection--and nobody will suppress a smile during Doyle's description of graduation day, when Meredith wore one of the red-and- white "Ross Is Right" badges distributed by his foes. It was hidden under his robes, turned upside down. --John Miller

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Title: An American Insurrection: James Meredith and...
Publisher: Anchor
Publication Date: 2003
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Used: Good

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