Academic journal article Journalism History

Murder in Mississippi

Academic journal article Journalism History

Murder in Mississippi

Article excerpt

The Unsolved Case of Agence French-Presses Paul Guihard

Agence French-Presse reporter Paul Guihard is the only journalist known to have been killed during the civil rights era. He was shot in the back from about one foot away on September 30, 1962, on the campus of the University of Mississippi while covering the integration of the university, which resulted in riots. His assailant was never identified, and his story was lost in the greater development of the day, the enrollment of James Meredith as the first black student at the university. This article tells his story from his early childhood in France and England through his death. It is based on primary research material, including newly released FBI and U.S. Marshals Service documents at the National Archives, archival material at the University of Mississippi, and interviews with Guihard's brother, Alain.

Agence French-Presse reporter Paul Guihard parked his rented car on the campus of the University of Mississippi and walked toward the crowd of angry students and citizens swarming in front of the Lyceum, the campus administration building, following the news that the first African-American would be admitted to the university. Less than ten minutes later on that September day in 1 962 he was murdered, shot in the back with the bullet tearing into his heart.1 He was shot from one foot away by an unknown assailant. His body was found by students in a dark area of campus near bushes surrounding a women's dormitory, a location that was out of sight of the rioters and law enforcement officials, who were protecting the campus from the violence that threatened to overwhelm Oxford.2

As recently as last May, Guihard was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's list of unsolved civil rights murders.3 The only known reporter killed during the civil rights era (1954-65),4 his death has, for the most part, been relegated to a footnote in the larger story surrounding Ole Miss on September 30, 1 962. 5 It was on that day that federal marshals were called in to protect James Meredith's right to attend the public university and President John F. Kennedy sent in the army to secure the campus following riots that broke out shortly before Guihard was killed. The riots covered about fifteen hours, extending from campus into town and not ending until mid-day on October 1 .6

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the dangers that reporters faced while reporting civil rights stories throughout the South and to bring recognition to a foreign correspondent who gave his life in pursuit of a story. It relies on primary sources and archival research, including U.S. Marshals Service and FBI files released by the National Archives at the author's request, interviews with Guihard's brother in France, files at the John F. Kennedy Library and oral histories. The goal is to broaden knowledge about Guihard and provide a new perspective on his death, which contributes to a growing body of work focused on the integration crisis by offering a nuanced and personal history. It also contributes to an understanding of the wider political, economic and social factors at play in Mississippi at the time. And it serves as a reminder that his murderer has never been indentified and may still be alive today, avoiding prosecution for almost fifty years.

Throughout the tense years of rhe civil rights era, reporters were shot at, beaten, threatened, and challenged in their pursuit of the public's right to know. The narrative of Guihard's death serves as a reminder that the murder of a journalist is akin to shooting a bullet through the First Amendment and that freedoms once given are to be cherished and protected, not treated with hate and violence. This statement may be viewed as excessive by some, but it is designed to place the story of his death at the crossroads of broader cultural perspectives and to generate intetdisciplinary interest in the role of journalism in society and the risks that journalists take to protect rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. …

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