‘RIOT: Witness to Anger and Change’ Photo-History of 1962 Ole Miss Riot

Photographer Ed Meek and James Meredith Photo by Milly Moorhead West
Photographer Ed Meek and James Meredith
Photo by Milly Moorhead West

Yoknapatawpha Press and the Meek School of Journalism and New Media are pleased to announce the joint publication of RIOT: Witness to Anger and Change, a photo album featuring the photography of Edwin E. Meek, with an Introduction by Curtis Wilkie and Afterword by Governor William Winter.

This is a story that for more than 50 years has shadowed the University of Mississippi, a moment in time that many would like to forget; yet Meek’s photos and recollections offer perspective and clarity to a turbulent past. As Wilkie writes in the introduction, “To the school’s credit, Ole Miss has never tried to whitewash the story, heeding the words of the philosopher, George Santayana, who warned that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

On Sept. 30, 1962, when a student demonstration in the Circle protesting the admission of James Meredith turned violent, Meek, a 22-year-old graduate of Ole Miss and staff photographer for University Public Relations, was first at the scene. He stayed up all night and took over 500 photos including exclusive shots of Meredith in the classroom. Meek is the only photographer with a full body of work before, during and after the 1962 riot at the University of Mississippi.

“I heard the hiss of a bottle sailing over my head and saw it strike a marshal’s helmet. When I turned to see who had thrown the bottle, I did not recognize a single face. The crowd had become a mob of strangers. Suddenly a man snatched a reporter’s camera and smashed it on the ground. Photographers began warning each other, ‘Shoot and run!’ When people noticed me taking pictures, someone said, ‘It’s okay. He’s from Ole Miss!’ ” (Edwin E, Meek, Foreword)

Meek helped set up a press room in the Lyceum and went back and forth to the “Circle” taking photographs. The rioting, which took the lives of French journalist Paul Guihard and bystander Ray Gunter, lasted until dawn when it was suppressed by Federal Marshals, the Mississippi National Guard and units of the U.S. Army and 101st Airborne. James Meredith registered for classes that day, becoming the first black student at Ole Miss. He graduated from Ole Miss in 1963.

“I have always believed that Mississippi has much to teach the rest of the country when it comes to race relations. Having been the state where some of the most extreme battles over integration were fought, we can now appreciate more fully the progress we have made.” (Gov. William F. Winter, Afterword)

RIOT contains 120 photos, many previously unpublished. The book features a recollections chapter in which Meek and Wilkie, fellow journalism students at the University of Mississippi, recall events from different perspectives. While Meek was in the middle of the action taking pictures, diving for cover, changing film in a cloud of tear gas, Wilkie, also then 22, braved the tear gas to witness the mindless destruction.

WILKIE: I walked up and saw, yeah, the marshals had the Lyceum ringed, and they were in battle gear and across the street…a crowd of students began to gather. At the earliest stages it wasn’t an ugly mob at all, it was largely just curious. I was there out of curiosity.

MEEK: It felt like a pep rally…

WILKIE: You know, if history was going to be made, I think we all wanted to see it. If they were going to bring Meredith in to register, I was there to see history being made.

MEEK: Well, I think also there were numerous false starts back and forth. This was a scenario over about a six-month period, and so it was kind of hard to get excited at first, that this was really happening, until you saw the marshals.

WILKIE: When these guys showed up, you knew…

MEEK: You knew it was serious.
(“Recollections,” by Curtis Wilkie and Edwin E. Meek)

PROMOTION PLANS include a book announcement event at the University of Mississippi’s Overby Center and a traveling photo exhibit.

Proceeds from sales will benefit the Meek School of Journalism’s Student Entrepreneurship Fund which will enable students and faculty to publish their work. In 2014, Ed Meek donated his photo collection to the University of Mississippi J.D. Williams Library.

The RIOT album is being promoted online through the university’s fundraising website, Ignite Ole Miss. Alumni and students should visit the project page for more information or to donate.

We have a very long way yet to travel in Mississippi,
and at the University of Mississippi there is much wrong
that needs to be made right,
but we have come light years together.

− James Meredith

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