Interview with Nicholas Katzenbach


Nicholas Katzenbach:

Well, the Sunday evening when I flew down in the government plane to the airstrip at the University of Mississippi and, was the evening that Meredith was going to come on the campus, did come on the campus to be admitted there, we had marshals already down there, uh, we had about uh, four or five hundred uh marshals sworn in as, from the prison guards, from the border patrol, from the U.S. marshal service, from any other place we could find reasonably trained law enforcement officers.** And uh, there were just a whole bunch of them in helmets, so forth, and we had no place to put them, and they were at themselves an irritant to the students who were returning from a football weekend,** and the Mississippi highway patrol was there and a state senator by the name of Yarborough was there who uh was very, very tough and racist, more so than governor Barnett. And a, we had no place to sort of hide the marshals, uh we were around the Lyceum Building which was the center of the campus, and unbeknownst to us uh, a sort of a tradition and a, a place of great honor.** There the highway patrol was in front, marshals were lined up around the building, and the governor had said the highway patrol would stay and maintain order, the students were shouting a lot of taunts, throwing matches occasionally, that kind of uh, thing and the highway patrol did not stay, the head of the highway patrol was there and he just suddenly ordered his people away and as soon as the highway patrol drove out, it was almost as though that was a signal to, to people for the riot to begin, uh, and uh there were, we had had reports throughout uh not merely the students, but of all kinds of people pouring in in cars, uh, in order to prevent Meredith from being admitted to to Old Miss. Uh, one has to remember also that that was the squirrel hunting season in Mississippi so there were literally hundreds, thousands of guns. Every pickup truck had a couple of guns in it, uh, and uh, so that the situation was, was really very dangerous.** And some people were in fact killed that evening, a reporter from a French newspaper I remember and I think somebody else uh, may have been killed. I got, uh, it was obvious to me very, I got on the phone very early to the white house and uh, and was talking throughout the evening from a public payphone on a collect call to the White House and talking with President Kennedy and uh with Bobby and with Burke Marshall, and uh we kept that line open throughout the whole riot. And it was really rather funny, I did say we needed the troops, the troops ought to come, and we kept waiting for the troops. We had a good communication system. We had set up the week before and uh, in which the border patrol had set up so that we had people at the airport, we had people downtown and we could communicate with them. I was passing this information on to the President. Every now and then I would leave the payphone and go back to the radio which was in another room and get the latest information and go back to the phone. And I do remember on one occasion I handed the phone to the nearest person and said hold this, its, the White House is on the line and the person was a reporter and he picked it up and talked and there was President Kennedy on the other end of the line and uh so I had maintained that communication system and the troops finally came in uh and appeared. The first troops to arrive were the local uh, uh, national guard, who had been federalized, there was a company there that was, was actually under the command of Captain Faulkner who was [William] Faulkner's nephew, I think uh and uh they had a rough time getting there. Some of them were hurt when the got there. And the riot went on until really thousands of troops poured in, as soon as the troops were I was telling the President stop them, we've got more than we need now. Uh, there were thousands of them that uh, came in and occupied the campus that evening. And …