By Sidna Brower Mitchell
The integration of the University of Mississippi by James Meredith in the fall of 1962 was a life-changing event for me. As editor of The Daily Mississippian, I realized that I could stand up for what I believe despite the repercussions. I certainly found out who my friends and supporters were and sadly I learned to be a cynic and a bit suspicious in reading or listening to the media.
As journalism students at Ole Miss, we heard over and over the importance of objective reporting and checking the so-called facts by Drs. Sam Talbert and Jere Hoar. And for the most part, back in those days — 50 years ago — the reporting was basically factual, leaving the editorial comments where they were supposed to be — on the editorial page. Not so today.
Perhaps the best coverage of the integration and the events afterwards was done by the Christian Science Monitor, which is no longer in print form. We had famous reporters such as Roger Mudd, Dan Rather, Joe Cumming and others who made their mark based on their reporting at Ole Miss.
In attempting to be fair in my editorials in The Daily Mississippian, I was accused of not “upholding Southern traditions.” I felt compelled to express my opinion when behavior was not appropriate — “Don’t riot, boys — or the University was endangered of losing its accreditation. As a result, the Campus Senate decided to censor me, but soon found that was the wrong word since as an elected editor, that body could only censure me. Unfortunately, that action only brought on more national criticism of this Southern university while I received favorable coverage in the press, even some of the Mississippi newspapers.
About the same time, the Kappa Alpha fraternity began circulating a petition to impeach me. Luckily, that didn’t go far, especially with the Kappas (KKG), my sorority, although some of my sisters didn’t approve of my writings. One would spit on me if I walked up the main stairs in the Kappa house; I soon started going up the back stairs that happened to be closer to my room.
Thank goodness for the friendship and sometimes advice from Dr. Jim Silver and his wife, Dutch. When things really got heated on campus, the Silvers would invite me over for dinner or just a break from the hectic times. Dr. Silver’s main advice was not to interview James Meredith or even meet him because that would create major issues for both of us. Meredith and I didn’t meet until 40 years later.
Most of my father’s small dairy and food supply business was in Mississippi so I was very concerned about my editorials. Always supportive, he told me not to worry — “Write what you think is right.” Many years later, after Daddy passed away, I found letters from some of his Mississippi customers who said they agreed with my editorials but couldn’t say that in public for fear of losing business in their communities.
Evidently one Mississippi radio station not only chastised me but also claimed I had been sleeping with James Meredith. My father was furious and contacted a lawyer who told Daddy not to bother suing.
On campus, the Rebel Underground had a heyday calling me “the Pink Princess” among other accusations. I even had one student who followed me around, spouting derogatory comments. (I later heard that he had been kicked out of school for growing or using marijuana.)
All of these interruptions, distractions and stress only complicated my trying to put out a daily newspaper — girls had to be in by 11 p.m. in those days — and graduate.
I managed to accomplish both but my problems were nothing compared to what James Meredith had to go through. Although I believed he had a right to be there, I felt I could never print that in The Daily Mississippian for that would create more uprisings and perhaps be detrimental to the University. However, I think almost everyone would admit that James Meredith was a brave man.
Sidna Brower Mitchell, a Memphis native, was graduated from Ole Miss in 1963 when she was named to the Hall of Fame. As editor of the Daily Mississippian when James Meredith integrated the university, she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her editorials and received a number of other honors and job offers. Sidna accepted an internship with Scripps-Howard to become a general assignment reporter for the World Telegram and Sun in New York City and a deskman for UPI in London. Her other media work included being officer in charge of employee communications for Citibank in New York City, a hospital community affairs director and an assistant director of development for a NYC management consultant firm. She and her late husband owned weekly newspapers in Morris County, NJ, for 25 years, where she has continued to write a weekly cooking column since 1975. Sidna retired as deputy director of the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (COAH).
Although retired, Sidna continues to be active on a state and local level. She serves on the state board for CAI-NJ (Community Association Institute-New Jersey), a Middlesex County GOP committeewoman, on the Rossmoor Board of Governors, president of the Rossmoor Kiwanis Club, president of the Rossmoor Republican Club and Community Church secretary. Her sport is serious croquet in which she has participated in tournaments in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Florida.
This article was originally published in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media Alumni Magazine and appears here with permission.