Historic Oval Office tapes remind  me of Mississippi defiance part IV

Bill Miles

After the calamitous enrollment of James Meredith at Ole Miss in October, 1962, Mississippi, through the Ross Barnett leadership, attempted to present a face of defiance to its majority white citizens while meekly navigating behind the scenes to deny any cooperation with what had become the “hated Kennedys”. JFK and RFK early occupied the state populace’s ire later reserved for Bill and Hillary Clinton. This tactic fit Hitler’s propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ purported axiom of, “Tell a lie long enough and people will believe it”. In the treasure of transcripts from the Oval Office presented to me by a good friend, I have reinforced my theory that both sides attempted to “pull the wool” over their targeted audience. I learned little of new information. While deciphering the rambling and frequently ‘gapped’ recordings, I noted that Barnett babbled so much that I doubt he knew what he was attempting to achieve. I suppose the best I could get out of it was that he tried really hard to get the Kennedys to delay putting Meredith into Ole Miss. The Governor frequently suggested that there might be a better time later in the fall. When pressed on an exact date by JFK, he could not come up with anything better than “maybe in a couple of weeks.” This didn’t fly in DC. Nor would it have been accepted by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals who had issued the order to enroll Meredith. I was amused at the final conversation Barnett had with the Kennedys prior to the Sunday action. After sputtering about aimless points (none of which impressed the President), Barnett lingered on the phone as JFK tried to get off. Almost as an afterthought, ole Ross blurted, “Mr. President, I want to thank you for your support of our poultry industry.” An obviously perplexed President meekly responded “O.K.”. The transcript notes that Kennedy giggled to his White House colleagues trying to understand what chickens and civil rights had in common. In a previous account I wrote about the deal I first told about between Barnett and the Kennedys. I further amplify that story with a conversation I had with the late Tupelo Mayor James L. Ballard. Within days of the Look Magazine article coming out Ballard was on an industry seeking trip to Chicago led by Barnett. Mayor Ballard told me that he and another Mississippi leader, Mayor Charles Fulgrum of Yazoo City, were sitting in front of Ross and Mrs. Barnett on the plane ride home. My recollection of the Mayor’s story is this. “Governor Barnett leaned forward to speak between my seatmate and me,” Ballard said. “He stated, ‘I hear there’s a story’s in a magazine about me making a secret deal with the Kennedys. What’ya think I ought to do about it?’” “I said, ‘for goodness sakes, Governor, let it go. Ignore it.’” Ballard (who had read my Tupelo Journal story) stated. “‘I think I will,’ the Governor responded.” However, when he got back to Jackson and heard from his White Citizens Council advisors, he adamantly denied any such deal. Too bad. The cat was out of the bag. I made a photograph of U.S. Judge Claude Clayton of Tupelo addressing Mississippi Guardsmen explaining their obligation to obey orders from the U.S. Commander-in-Chief who had federalized them. Judge Clayton had been a general in the U.S. Army Reserve. Soon my friend D. B. Crockett of the Mississippi Highway Patrol ID Bureau requested to “borrow” my negatives shot over the several incidents I had covered. I interpreted this as a polite request that could be followed by more serious requisition. Eventually I got my negatives back which remain in my possession today. But prints made from my negatives ended up in Patrol archives. I wondered how a picture I had made the day of “Little Paul’s Stand” had ended up in Dallas as part of the Kennedy Memorial. It was attributed to Black Hawk, an agency that bought and sold pictures for various purposes including media. When Ole Miss decided to have special events commemorating Meredith’s feat in 2012, a classmate, Dr. Ed Meek, for whom the Meek School of Journalism is named, alerted planners that I had unusual documentation. I collaborated with him and the J-School in the exhibition. While providing the information, Dr. Andy Mullins, then assistant to Chancellor Dan Jones, saw my work. He immediately implored me to give my stuff to Ole Miss. Mullins was a longtime friend who had been one of the “Boys of Spring” under Gov. William Winter during Education Reform of the early 1980s. He was one of the “M” kids. Two others included Dick Molphus and Ray Mabus. There were others “spring chickens”, too. As I provided copies of pictures, one of the Ole Miss archivists said that she had seen many of the pictures. She said they had access to them because they had been purchased when the Highway Patrol auctioned some of its historical stuff years ago. By further inspection I found that my photographs had been duplicated when my film was “borrowed”. Fortunately I had the negatives, copies of stories written and illustrated during the time, and other verifying factors to establish credit for my work. It is now available as part of the Bill Miles Collection in the J.D. Williams Library at Ole Miss. Of interest to my friends when I relate my experiences of that era has been the fact that both political campaigns (J.P. Coleman and Paul B. Johnson, Jr.) utilized my work. Johnson used my picture of his confrontation with Chief U.S. Marshal James McShane to appear as if he had a fist in the marshal’s face. He did not. The meeting began with a handshake between the two. My recording of it provided illustration for a Coleman ad entitled, “Tell the whole truth, Paul.” Twenty-five years later when illustrator Danny Daimwood of Jackson, a principal in the Dobbs-Maynard Agency that handled Johnson’s media and strategy, and I partnered on a project for the Mississippi Department of Transportation I learned how the depiction came about. I had conceived the anti-trash campaign, “Litter Quitter”. Daimwood illustrated cartoon characters “Litter Quitter Fox”, “Me Too Mouse” and “Trashy Hog”. They were in a coloring book distributed to elementary students around Mississippi. Danny explained how he used the picture made on that September, 1962 Tuesday for the “Stand Tall” ad. Before this alliance we had never met much less talked about the 1963 campaign. Through a friend I gave J. P. Coleman a copy of the “handshake” picture. Coleman would wave the picture and say he got it from a North Mississippi sheriff. I never wore a badge. I knew a lot of Mississippi sheriffs, several of whom were from North Mississippi. I guess that sounded more authentic. In August, 1963 Meredith got his diploma from Ole Miss. I was there to record the event. This time I was paid by an Oxford supporter of Coleman. I do not choose to name the individual here but I did name him in my book, “Scribe among Pharisees”. I guess the moral of my recollections might be summed up: Be careful of positions one takes in public. History has a way of revealing heretofore hidden acts. Ten years after Meredith enrolled at Ole Miss, I did a magazine interview with him in the old Sun ‘n Sand Motel in Jackson and wrote an article entitled, “Ole Miss plus 10”. He called himself a “warrior”. I guess he was..

If you would like to contact Bill Miles you can email him at bill.t.miles@gmail.com

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