Interview with Jan Robertson
QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

WELL I GUESS THAT, THAT TAKES US PRETTY MUCH UP TO THE NIGHT OF THE RIOTS, DOESN'T IT? COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR FIRST INCLING THAT IT WAS GOING WRONG, FIRST SEEING THE MARSHALS.

Jan Robertson:

Alright. I had been contacted uh by Chancellor Williams at my home and asked to come back early. We wanted to put out a special edition of the Mississippian. It did not publish on Mondays. But we were to have a special edition asking people to remain calm, not to congregate in large groups. At that particular point, uh, he was expecting Meredith on the campus the next day, and so we were to have that out, bright and early Monday morning. When I got to the campus, uh, I went to may sorority house and as I was walking out the door a truck passed by with some men in some bright orange vests and um, naturally being a reporter, I followed them to see where they were going to go. Uh, and I followed them to the Lyceum and they got out and they encircled the Lyceum and at this particular point there had been, you know, there had been no incidence that would warrant any, you know, any show of any kind of force. Uh, Most of them wouldn't talk, but I asked the man who seemed to be in charge, and he said that they were U.S. Marshals uh, and other than that they wouldn't say why they were there. They were just there. Uh, they had teargas guns and some teargas projectiles but I went to each one of them and I did not see any other kind of weapon on any of the marshals. I went then down to the Mississippian office where the chancellor was waiting. And I said chancellor, what are the marshals doing around the lyceum and he got this very surprised and stricken look on his face and said you know where are they and I said they're at the Lyceum and he said, let's, you know, let's go and I got in his car with him and he drove up to the lyceum and he went in and that's the last I saw of him. From then on uh, people started coming back on the campus. At one point they were stopping people at the entrances. They were Mississippi highway patrolmen. They were later withdrawn. I later found out that there were any number of people streaming onto the campus through the woods, coming over the railroad tracks and back ways. Students came and of course they saw the marshals. I know I got angry when I saw the marshals, it, it just, it seemed a betrayal, it made me mad, you know, why are these people here when we haven't done anything, and people have behaved themselves and you know what is going on and I caught myself uh really with some of these feelings.** They came on campus, uh, the first real, the mood changed as it got darker. Every other thing that had happened on campus preceding that had happened during the day. I discovered that night that people will do things under the cover of darkness they would never do in the light of day. I saw people absolutely change in demeanor and attitude. I, there was one freshman girl uh that had been this little flower of southern gentility when I had met her uh and uh she came up to me and her face was absolutely contorted and I almost didn't recognize her and she was absolutely furious because she had picked up a brick and thrown it at a marshal and it had only hit him in the head and scratched him and she had not put his eye out.** And I just, she was a completely changed person, she was not, you know the person that I had known. Uh, people got caught up, the first real violent action, a movietone news cameraman and his wife came on campus in the car. They started filming. Um, we had had a panty raid earlier in the year and the university had said that they were going to hire a cameraman and if you were photographed in the, in a panty raid, then it would be grounds for dismissal. A lot of people thought they were the university camera people and so they started rocking the car trying to get his camera. Uh, and smash, you know, and were smashing the camera, trying to turn the car over. I climbed up on the hood of a car and was taking pictures with my camera and then suddenly um, Bill Street from the Commercial Appeal grabbed me by the skirt and said get down from there you idiot. And I looked around suddenly and realized that I was surrounded by a sea of very hostile faces. And Bill said she's with the Mississippian which gave me time to get back down from the hood of the car. They were smashing cameras, any reporter that had a camera, it was smashed. And I walked over and put my camera in uh, the safe at the old Y, but uh some policeman had to come and rescue this cameraman and the woman who was with him. And they eventually set fire to some cars that they turned over. There was a Volkswagon as I remember. But that's when it started to get ugly.