- What is the purpose of this memorandum?
- What are the main points Edwin Guthman suggests the President make in response to the accusation that the federal government "precipitated" the violence in Mississippi by acting hastily and "not awaiting the completion of the judicial process?"
- Is there a suggested answer that you think inadequately responds to a question? If you were a reporter asking this question, what else would you want to know? What clarifying questions would you ask?
- What question or questions would you want to ask the President about the Meredith case?
Questions for further discussion:
- Who was General Walker and why were there serious criminal charges against him?
T0: Timothy J. Reardon, Special Assistant to the President
FROM: Edwin. Guthman, Special Assistant for Public Information,
Department of Justice
DATE: November 19, 1962
SUBJECT: Justice Department Report
Following are some questions and suggested answers regarding the Meredith case which might be asked of the President tomorrow. Per your request, other events of the week in the Department will be reviewed in the usual Tuesday report.
On November 15 the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit directed the Department to bring criminal contempt proceedings against Governor Barnett and Lt. Governor Paul Johnson. The Department will file the necessary papers probably next week. The Court of Appeals ruled on September 28 and 29 that Governor Barnett and Lt. Governor Johnson were in civil contempt of the court by obstructing its orders to admit James Meredith to the University. The Court set fines of $10,000 and $5,000 a day respectively if Governor Barnett and Lt. Governor Johnson do not purge themselves of the civil contempt.
On October 15 the Department recommended that a fine of $100,000 be levied against Governor Barnett for ten days of asserted civil contempt. The Court has not ruled on this recommendation and the criminal contempt proceedings will precedence.
At the state level, a grand jury in Lafayette County last Friday issued a report highly critical of the Marshals' actions, particularly blaming Chief Marshal McShane for causing the riot. The grand jury reportedly indicted McShane and a soldier but we do not have direct confirmation of this. The soldier fired toward a dormitory on October 29. This occurred during the most serious student disturbance after the riot, during which time several hundred cherry bombs were thrown at the soldier. The Department is preparing to take strong legal action to meet the charges and a copy of a statement made by the Attorney General about the grand jury is attached.
Q. At the time of the riot in Oxford, two veteran newspapermen, Arthur Knock and David Lawrence, stated that the Federal government had not waited until all legal procedures had been exhausted before moving to enforce the court's orders in the Meredith case. The suggestion was made that hasty action by the Federal government precipitated the violence in Oxford. More recently, charges of hasty action were repeated by John Satterfield of Mississippi, former president of the American Bar Association. He stated that the riot was "precipitated by the unwillingness of Attorney General Kennedy to await the completion of judicial process." What are your views?
Background: Meredith first sought to enter the University in the summer session of 1961. A full trial was held in the District Court in February and on June 25th, 1962, the Court of Appeals ruled that Meredith should be admitted to the University. On September 10, Mr. Justice Black, after polling all other members of the Supreme Court and finding them in full agreement with him, ruled that Meredith's admission to the University should no longer be delayed. The precise issue before Justice Black, was whether the orders of the Court of appeals should become effective before the September term of the University began or whether they should be stayed.
The only question presented at any time during the entire litigation was whether the University was segregated and whether Meredith was denied admission because he was a Negro. Both are questions of fact which the Court would not ordinarily review and the basis of Justice Black's order was that there was no substantial possibility that the Court would review the case.
Suggested Answer: Any charge of hasty action is without any foundation whatsoever. The event which put the machinery of our law into action was a private decision by Mr. Meredith in January 1961 to apply for admission to the University of Mississippi. It was his decision, not that of any organization, and it was made wholly without consultation with any person or agency of the government.
Whatever the cost in bitterness and injury to persons and property, I think it is a tribute to this nation's respect for law -- unmatched in history and unmatched in any other country -- that the decision of an individual to assert his rights under the law could by itself invoke great exercise of judicial and executive authority which was finally called upon to enforce the rights of James Meredith.
Not many people may realize it, but there are no new legal issues which had to be decided by the Supreme Court in the Meredith case. Even the question of the validity of the school segregation cases of 1954 was not at issue. The only offense ever offered -- and the only basis advanced for delay of the court's order was that the University of Mississippi was never segregated in the first place, but did admit Negro applicants on the same basis as everyone else.
I think the events of the past two months have shown beyond any conceivable dispute what little basis there was for that defense. So the courts' orders followed 18 months of litigation during which time the University and the state had full opportunity at all three levels of the Federal court system to present their case.
Once Justice Black had ruled that Mr. Meredith's admission could no longer be delayed, it was the unquestionable duty of every American citizen to see that the court's orders were carried out. So, I think the record is quite clear that there was no hasty action on the part of the government.
Q. A total of 15 Deputy Marshals and 400 soldiers are on duty in Oxford, How long does the government intend to keep a force at the University of Mississippi to protect Mr. Meredith?
Suggested Answer: The United States has a deep interest in seeing that the orders of the Federal courts are obeyed, that they are not interfered with, and that the integrity of the courts is upheld. We will continue to provide whatever force is necessary to insure that there is non interference with the court's orders for as long as is necessary.
Q. Why was the decision made to bring Meredith on the campus of the University of Mississippi on Sunday afternoon, particularly when he came there late and at a time when many students were returning from a football game which had been held out of town?
Suggested Answer: The decision to bring Mr. Meredith on the campus Sunday was made by pre arrangement with Governor Barnett and it was caused by our efforts to avoid a direct clash with the law enforcement officers of the State of Mississippi.
I had a number of conversations with Governor Barnett, as did the Attorney General. Finally, the Governor arranged with us to have Meredith put on the campus Sunday afternoon. We refused to put Meredith in the campus until it was secure and that was the reason Marshals preceded him and took their positions around the Lyceum. The Federal government was very anxious not to have to use troops against citizens of one of our states and, so, we hoped that with the Governor's promise state authorities would assist in maintaining law and order and that the court's orders could be carried our without violence and without the use of troops.
Q. Why were the Marshals posted around the Lyceum building in the first place?
Suggested Answer: They entered the University to establish security so that Meredith could enter in accordance with the court's orders. After they got there, a crowd gathered and the only choice the Marshals had would have been to withdraw and take Meredith with them, or stand their ground. After Mr. Meredith had been brought safely on the campus with the assistance of the state police and in accordance with our agreement with Governor Barnett, there was no good reason to withdraw.
Q. Was General Walker afforded full protection of the law, particularly in connection with the Government's request that he undergo psychiatric examination?
Suggested Answer: Every opportunity for judicial determination has been and is being afforded General Walker in this case. In fact, a hearing on the question of a psychiatric examination began this morning (Tuesday) in federal court in Oxford. The facts of the matter will be reviewed clearly there. I would like to say, however, that it is the Government's responsibility to protect defendants from being tried particularly on such serious charges as those facing General Walker, when they are mentally incompetent, by providing for psychiatric examination. The federal court in Oxford ordered such an examination. Later, General Walker's attorneys suggested a private psychiatric examination. The government agreed to this, he was released on bond, and I understand the examination is already under way.
Q. There are persistent rumors that Mr. Meredith is doing poorly scholastically and may flunk out of the University.
Suggested Answer: Mr. Meredith is a brave young man who has stood up to danger and threats with calm and determination. He has made it clear he is interested in the best education his state has to offer. Now that he has that opportunity, I am sure he is working with the same determination to get the most out of it.
Q. Would you care to comment on the Lafayette County grand jury's assertion that the presence of the Marshals and the actions of Chief Marshal McShane incited the riot?
Suggested Answer: I would like to call attention, as did the Attorney General, to the fact that the grand jury did not report that all federal actions in connection with Mr. Meredith's entrance to the University of Mississippi campus on September 30 were made by pre arrangement with Governor Barnett. Mr. Meredith was escorted on to the campus with the assistance of Mississippi State police and Governor Barnett said he would take the responsibility for maintaining law and order.
As for the statements about the conduct of the Marshals, fully a third of the 545 Marshals at Oxford September 30 were injured during the rioting, many seriously. The nation will know of their courage and their restraint that night from the eyewitness accounts of reporters at the scene, and I welcome this opportunity again to pay tribute to their outstanding service to the nation.
Q. In the criminal contempt proceedings, will Governor Barnett be tried by a jury?
Suggested Answer: This is a matter to be decided by the Court of Appeals and it would not be proper for me to comment on it.