By Christina Steube
University of Mississippi
In conjunction with the week of events marking 60 years of integration at the University of Mississippi, the School of Law will host a screening of the PBS syndicated documentary film “You Asked for the Facts: Robert Kennedy at the University of Mississippi” on Monday (Sept. 26).
The film chronicles U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s 1966 visit to the university and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering from Ole Miss law students to bring him here.
The screening, at 12:30 p.m. in Weems Auditorium, is free and open to the public.
“We’re excited for our students and people in the university community to watch this compelling documentary about Robert Kennedy’s visit to campus and the real story about Meredith’s integration,” said Will Berry, law professor and associate dean for research.
Just four years after James Meredith enrolled at and integrated UM in 1962, university students flouted the statewide speaker ban – later ruled unconstitutional – for college campuses in Mississippi by inviting Kennedy to speak on campus to reveal the truth about roughly 25 phone calls with then-Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett.
At the time of Meredith’s enrollment, Kennedy was U.S. attorney general and knew about the conversations between Barnett and the White House. Law students, who attended his talk in Tad Smith Coliseum, asked questions about Barnett’s role in the events surrounding Meredith’s enrollment. Kennedy responded candidly.
The documentary was produced and directed by Mary Blessey, an independent filmmaker and UM alumna who earned a master’s degree in Southern studies in 2016 and an M.F.A. in documentary expression in 2019. She is the daughter of 1966 law alumnus Gerald Blessey, the original organizer of the Law Students Speaker’s Bureau, the organization that extended the invitation to Kennedy.
The film contains previously unreleased footage of the speech and interviews with eyewitnesses and individuals directly involved, including Meredith; Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy; and former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson.
“This film is a classic story of law students shining light on public issues and causing positive change through unfettered free speech,” Gerald Blessey said. “You don’t have to wait to become a lawyer to support the rule of law. You can start as a law student.”
“You Asked for the Facts” screened first at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in 2019; received numerous awards in 2020 at the San Diego International Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival and March on Washington Film Festival; and aired nationwide in April 2021 as part of the PBS Reel South series.
In March, the law school held a screening of the film as part of Law Alumni Weekend, followed by a panel discussion including several individuals who were students at the time and helped organize the visit. Meredith and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert Kennedy, were in attendance.
For a full schedule of events, visit https://60years.olemiss.edu/.