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John Cofield’s “Oxford and Ole Miss”: My Memories of 1962

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I was four and a half years old when The Riot exploded on campus and exploded Ole Miss onto a national stage from which we are still trying to “exit stage left, or right.”

I know children are not supposed to have clear memories of events until they are 6 or 7. Maybe it was because I was old enough to know that a bad thing was happening that I absolutely do remember some things. I remember being scared, because my mommie was scared. I remember Mommie crying after Daddy called. I remember answering the phone in the middle of the night when Grandfather Stephens called from New Albany to talk to Momma. He was calling worried about us and to find out if there was any word on Daddy.

At sun up Daddy finally called. Momma quickly gathering us boys up and we went running to the car. He was going to try and make it to Granddaddy’s. On the run to car, Mom dropped something out of her purse but didn’t go back to get it. I clearly remember looking out the car window at the hundreds of Federal troops laid out in Granddaddy Cofield’s front yard and a unmanned green Army jeep running and puffing out a lot of bad smelling blue smoke. But Daddy wasn’t there.

Granddaddy had stayed on his front porch most of that night pacing with his pistol. He could hear gun fire and people yelling on campus. Several times he saw an orange glow in the sky and saw men running from the trees and crossing Jackson Avenue and disappearing into woods on the other side. He knew his son was somewhere in the middle of it all and prayed he would see him breaking from the trees and running toward home.

I don’t know if whatever fell from Mom’s purse was ever remembered and retrieved, but I know my clearest remembrance of that nervous night. We were coming around the Circle and smoke was everywhere and there were small fires. I remember Mommie telling me to look as hard as I could for Daddy and I got up on my knees and pressed myself to her side. The tear gas burned my eyes. And finally, finally here came my Daddy running out from behind a column of the Lyceum and Mommy crying out as he got to us and jumped in the car. I remember my Daddy pulling me to him and hugging me hard and with me and my little brother in his arms he leaned over and kissed Mommie and said, “Let’s go home.” – September 30/October 1, 1962.

–John Cofield

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