Justice sought in ’62 Ole Miss integration slaying

Published 10:48 pm Saturday, April 18, 2009

A veteran journalist says it’s time for authorities to determine who killed a French reporter covering the bloody battle over integration at the University of Mississippi in 1962.

Hank Klibanoff said Friday at Ole Miss that the FBI should publicly release all its documents, in unredacted form, concerning the slaying of Paul Guihard of Agence France Presse. No one has ever been arrested or charged.

Klibanoff also called on the killer to come forward and confess the crime, if that person is still alive. He said anyone else who knows the shooter’s identity should speak publicly.

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“To the killer: Tell us what happened. Tell us what you said, what he said, what you did, what he did. Tell us why you did it. Tell us how it felt,” Klibanoff said, according to the prepared text of a speech he delivered at Ole Miss.

Klibanoff is a former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and is co-author, with Gene Roberts, of “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation.” The book won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2007.

Guihard had been sent from the French news agency’s New York office to cover the violence that erupted when James Meredith was enrolled as the first black student at the flagship university in what was then one of the most strictly segregated states in the nation.

On Sept. 29, 1962, Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett declared before thousands of Confederate flag-waving Ole Miss fans at a football game in Jackson that integration would never take place on his watch.

Privately, Barnett negotiated with President John F. Kennedy. While they spoke by telephone, violence escalated as angry whites streamed into Oxford, some from hundreds of miles away, to defend what they considered the southern way of life.

Kennedy ordered the National Guard and U.S. marshals to escort Meredith onto campus. Guihard and juke box repairman Ray Gunter were killed and more than 200 were injured on campus in the days that followed.

On Friday, the Society of Professional Journalists dedicated a bench on the Ole Miss campus in Guihard’s memory. Speaking at the dedication ceremony, Klibanoff said the public deserves to know what led someone to shoot Guihard in the head.

Klibanoff said the killer, if still living, should explain why he was on campus that night.

“What have you been doing since? Have you wrestled with the memory of your act? Every day or just when you read about gatherings that memorialized the events here?” Klibanoff said. “How does this act fit in with your life? Was this just another in a series of criminal acts in your life, or was it an example of a high-flying burst of idiocy?”