Student Printz (March 20, 1964)
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Looking at it today, the significance of the front page shown above might be easily overlooked. The lead article deals with a proposal that would reduce the fines for traffic violations on campus, and the next most prominent emphasis belongs to an article about students being injured in a car accident. The rest of the page is filled with smaller articles about Greek life, baseball news, the saga of a coed's contacts going down a drain, a change in the women's curfew, and the new officers of the Yellow Jackets. This issue of the Student Printz was archived in McCain Library for many years, but the real story behind it has only recently come to light.
Earlier this year, another copy Student Printz with this date was donated to the University Archives (see below). It was yellowed and tattered, so Archives Specialist Yvonne Arnold compared its condition to the existing copy, with the idea of keeping whichever was in better shape. Her sharp eyes soon noted an even more important difference between the two copies. The issues were exactly the same, except that two articles on the right side of the front page were missing; in their place was an article titled "Frazier's attempt to matriculate unsuccessful".
The full text of the article reads:
Negro John Frazier, seeking to gain admission into the University of Southern Mississippi, was turned away at spring quarter registration, March 9. Frazier, 22, told a Printz photographer that school officials said he was not eligible to register because he had not submitted an application for the spring quarter. He then added that he was going to reapply for the summer quarter "following the proper procedure." Earlier, Frazier said he planned to take court action if he was not admitted for the spring term, but after failing to enroll he said he had no plans for going to court to gain admission. There were no incidents or crowds as the Negro was escorted onto campus and taken to the student services building.
Both versions of that issue of the Student Printz were kept in the Archives, and staff there was left to wonder about the story behind the change in content.
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In a stroke of both serendipity and irony, Charles Kershner (editor of the Student Printz in 1964) was scheduled to speak at a Social Justice and the News symposium at USM in November 2007, the same week that John Frazier was scheduled to be on campus to be a part of the Innovation Speaker Series sponsored by the Trent Lott Center and the Center for Black Studies. Once the coincidence was noticed, Frazier was quickly added to the symposium program. Kershner and Frazier had never before met in person until they were together on the platform. The men embraced in a powerful, emotionally charged moment. Then, they revealed the story behind these two versions of the paper.
As Kershner told it, the version with the article on Frazier was the one first distributed on campus. USM President McCain ordered the confiscation of every copy of the paper, and this order was carried out on March 20, 1964. A Printz photographer tried to take a picture of the papers being taken, but was warned away by campus security. Patrolmen seized all the copies they could find in the Printz offices and across campus, even interrupting classes to conduct their work. All of the papers were burned in USM's steam plant furnace.
All, that is, except a few copies hidden carefully away by Student Printz staff. A decision was made to replace page one of the March 20th issue and redistribute it three days later. The only difference was the removal of the Frazier article. No explanation was ever given for the order to confiscate the papers. The story was picked up nationally, but not covered by the local press. The incident had a chilling effect on the journalism classes, and a lasting influence on Charles Kershner.
Kershner received a letter from Frazier after the incident, thanking the Printz for the objective coverage in the original issue. In part, the letter read: "the officials of your school may confiscate your paper, but they cannot confiscate your minds and your ability to think for yourselves." The letter was later stolen from Kershner's locked desk drawer, but luckily, in these days before modern copy machines, he'd had the forethought to type a copy of it himself.
While on campus, Frazier reflected on life "coming full circle", noting that he was terrified when he came to USM's campus in 1964. He read from the Sovereignty Commission's records about himself, with their unfounded accusations of homosexuality in their efforts to thwart his attendance at USM. (This was a much more serious accusation than it is today.) Speaking of his attempt to attend USM, Frazier said, "I had a right to an education….It was the right thing to do….Everybody has a right to an education."
On this visit to USM, he experienced "excitement, awe, a lot of hope…..This is a totally different University of Southern Mississippi….I stand in awe" of USM's progress since the 60s. Frazier also announced that he will be donating his papers to USM, saying that he is "humbled and honored" to have them preserved here.
Frazier emphasized what his life illustrates: "You don't have to stop at the point where you are rejected….In the midst of insanity, you confront it, you make it humorous, you laugh at it….You do not allow it to define who you are, what you are, or what your potential is."
Charles Kershner transferred to USM (then Mississippi Southern College) in 1962, and stayed for three years. He was executive editor of the Student Printz for one year and graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and English. He is now president and executive editor of the Clinton Courier in Clinton, New York. In November 2007, he was inducted into USM's School of Mass Communication and Journalism Hall of Fame.
Frazier never attended USM. He graduated instead from Tougaloo College, and then went on to Tufts University, Harvard University, and Oxford University. He sat in the White House as the youngest person on the NAACP's board of directors, and was senior policy officer for two sitting governors in North Carolina. He is now a businessman there, but says, "I'm still a Mississippi boy, and I don't apologize for that. I claim it as part of who I am."
If you are interested in viewing these newspapers, visit the 3rd floor of McCain Library & Archives or contact Special Collections at 601.266.4345 or Ask-a-Librarian. To see more Items of the Month, click here.
For more information about the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi:
Callejo-Pérez, David M. Southern hospitality: identity, schools, and the civil rights movement in Mississippi, 1964-1972. New York : P. Lang, 2001. (Cook and McCain Libraries LC214.23 .H65 C35 2001)
For more information about the Civil Rights Movement and Journalism:
Reporting civil rights. New York : Library of America : Distributed to the trade in the U.S. by Penguin Putnam, 2003. (Gulf Coast Library E185.61 .R47 2003)
Senna, Carl. The black press and the struggle for civil rights. New York : F. Watts, 1993. ( McCain Library PN4882.5 .S46 1993)
Weill, Susan. In a madhouse's din: civil rights coverage by Mississippi's daily press, 1948-1968. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002. (Cook, McCain, and Gulf Coast Libraries E185.93 .M6 W35 2002)
Davies, David R. The press and race: Mississippi journalists confront the movement. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001. (Cook, McCain, and Gulf Coast Libraries F350 .N4 M57 2001)
For more information about the history of the University of Southern Mississippi:
Hickman, Alma. Southern as I saw it. Hattiesburg: University of Southern Mississippi Press, 1966. (Cook, McCain, and Gulf Coast Libraries LD3425 .H5)
Morgan, Chester M. Dearly bought, deeply treasured. Jackson: The University Press of Mississippi, 1987. (Cook and McCain Libraries LD3425 .M67 1987)
Text for this "Item of the Month" prepared by Diane DeCesare Ross.