Nowadays, access to the latest news is only a mouse click away, but before the Internet, the printed word was the best way to keep up with current events.
Such was the case nearly 50 years ago when James Meredith became the first African-American to enroll at the University of Mississippi. As the university plans to mark this milestone Sept. 30, 2012, the Department of Archives and Special Collections in the J.D. Williams Library has received a significant addition to its James Meredith Collection.
Longtime Oxford resident Kaye Hooker Towery Bryant recently donated her scrapbook of magazines, newspaper clippings and personal papers related to the integration riots, which resulted in two deaths, hundreds of injuries and many arrests. “This scrapbook adds a great deal to our understanding of the integration of the University of Mississippi, because it comes from someone who lived in the midst of the turmoil,” said Jennifer Ford, head of Archives and Special Collections and associate professor.
As an Oxford resident with a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son and husband who was an officer in the Mississippi National Guard, Bryant endured the conflict up-close and personal. “I realized it was momentous because of where we were,” Bryant said. “All of this was happening right before our eyes. Our quiet, little village had become a battleground. The town was basically shut down to its own citizens.”
“He did that for one day, then on Saturday night during the Ole Miss football game, he received a phone call informing him that the Mississippi National Guard members had been federalized,” Bryant said, noting that they were soon joined by some 30,000 regular troops. “Bob always said he fought on both sides,” she added.
Seeking a safe haven, Bryant and her children immediately moved in with her parents.
“From my parents’ home on South Lamar, I watched chartered buses unload armed men that I knew might soon be shooting at my husband. After the riots, we were under martial law. Local residents were not allowed on the streets for several days and then only if they had been issued a pass. She added, “after I was able to move back to my house, I had to go through three checkpoints to reach the grocery store. Our vehicles were searched, even taking our babies out of their car seats.”
Bryant said that, in the midst of the confusion and uncertainty, she realized she wanted her children and descendants to be able to understand what had happened and draw their own conclusions.
Among hundreds of items she collected and placed in the scrapbook are clippings from newspapers, mostly the Memphis Commercial Appeal and Oxford Eagle, covering the beginning of the riots and months following; periodicals, including LIFE magazine, Oct. 12, 1962, with an article covering the integration; Saturday Evening Post, Nov. 10, 1962, cover of James Meredith leaving class in company of federal marshals and inside the article “My Ordeal in Oxford” by James Meredith; and US News and World Report, Oct. 22, 1962, an article titled “Oxford Occupation.”
Most poignant among the mementoes is a handwritten letter that Bob Towery penned to himself expressing his thoughts concerning his involvement in the crisis. Also included are copies of a Permit to Pass issued by the XVIII Airborne Corps giving permission for citizens to “pass freely throughout the Oxford City area excluding the University of Mississippi;” copies of military orders to the troops; a letter to Alumni, Parents, Students and Other Friends from Chancellor J. D. Williams and Chairman Charles D. Fair, assuring that “Our beloved University will weather this crisis, which is tearing the hearts and souls of each of us;” and a letter to Bryant’s parents from the mayor of Fayette thanking them for “the courtesies shown our police department members during their time in Oxford.”
“I’m not one to collect things and pack them away for keeps; however, I knew this scrapbook was of value,” she said. “It was only out of my attic when I moved from one house to the other, but it was not until I recently got it out and read it again that I realized, due to its fragility, the scrapbook should be in a safe place. I’m donating it in memory of Bob Towery and all the other brave members of the Mississippi National Guard who served their country so well.”
Bob Towery later worked as the university’s director of student activities and retired as director of the Student Union, she said.
Bryant’s handwritten note in the front of the scrapbook dedicates it to the Towery children, Julie Towery Fanton, who graduated from UM with a BFA degree in speech and theatre and is an Emmy-winning set decorator for film and television in Los Angeles; and Col. Bobby Towery, deputy commandant at Carlisle Barracks War College in Carlisle, Pa., who graduated from the UM ROTC program and was commissioned as an Armor Officer, with service in Kuwait and Iraq. He was named to the UM ROTC Hall of Fame and obtained his master’s degree from the university during his time as an ROTC instructor.
Bryant’s donation is related to the library’s James Meredith Collection, which comprises videocassettes, scrapbooks, correspondence, newspapers and other periodicals.