Monday, October 1

Oxford Restaurants and the Integration of Ole Miss

Sept.-Oct., 1962. Russell H. Barrett Collection, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the integration of our home institution, the University of Mississippi. On October 1, 1962, James Meredith attended his first class on campus. In the days prior, the university was a battleground. Scores of federal troops descended on Oxford to quell the mobs of segregationist who were fighting Meredith's enrollment. Two people died. Hundreds were wounded.

In Oxford in 1962, the black-owned B&B Cafe operated just off the square. Angelo Mistilis had a restaurant on College Hill Road near the Oxford Airport. 

In 2004, we collected oral histories to document the restaurants of Oxford's past. Many of those interviews include memories from the riots of 1962. 

From our archive:

Susie Marshall in 1962. Image courtesy of Susie Marshall.
Memories of B&B Cafe

"I never shall forget. A caravan of soldiers came right along [points outside her home window to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard]. And you know, the street wasn’t paved then, 1962. Went to church that Sunday night. Because I think this was like early Sunday morning, I think it was. And we went to church that Sunday night and after—we heard all this noise. And we didn’t know what was going to happen. So the preacher at our church, he said—it was about seven thirty, and he let church out. Because that incident had taken place on the campus because Meredith was there to be entered into school—to be registered for school the next morning. And it was just really something. I was teaching at Taylor at that time. And we couldn’t go to school, you know. The marshals—well, the government, I guess, had taken control of the city government. And [it was] about a week before we could go to school…Everybody stayed close at home during that period. The maids that worked for the white folk, they would have to come and get them. And you couldn’t go through campus. I mean, the city part. They’d have to go around, you know, to get the people. Because it was just really controlled by the federal government…The town was really just shut down…It was just a scary time for black folk. White folk, too. They would put them in jail if they disobeyed the law...It sure changed the attitude of the town."

Angelo Mistilis working in the kitchen of his restaurant on College Hill Road in the 1960s. Image courtesy of Angelo Mistils.

Mistilis Restaurants

"My brother and I had just gone into business on College Hill Road:  Steve and Angelo’s Drive-In. A lot more people had cars. They were beginning to get cars in those days, so the drive-in business was good. And we had just opened in May. And [James] Meredith came that fall [of 1962 to integrate the University of Mississippi]. And we were just stuck out there and covered up with soldiers. It happened overnight. I was standing on the front of the building, watching when the border patrol plane brought Meredith in, and there were two or three great big dump trucks loaded with Federal Marshals that escorted them on the campus. My thinking has always been that if they’d have just gone ahead a registered him and let things go, we wouldn’t have had all the—the two deaths that were associated with it and all the destruction. And I blame the governor of Mississippi [Ross Barnett] for that. And I blame John F. Kennedy for that, because either one of them could have stopped it.  But they brought the wrath on—just those two people—and it was—it was a face-saving thing for both of them. And I believe they could have handled it a different way, and I wish they had but—uh, the day he [Meredith] came in—that night, the girls began to show up at the restaurant in droves, calling home. The campus was covered with tear-gas and it was getting all in their dorms. And they had come out to use my phone, and I had a line there. I don’t know how many people used my phone that night. And from then on until I asked them to put it off limits—my restaurant—because they were tearing it up—the soldiers. They didn’t have anything to do. They had thirty thousand troops here in this little old town and nothing to do.  You know, had the—the whole airport was covered with tents. You couldn’t see the ground.  And I brought—my wife [Jo Dale] was pregnant. Very pregnant. We had to stop at about seven roadblocks every night coming home.  Get out and search the car at each one of them.  So it was an ordeal. I brought a whole bunch of helicopter pilots home to take a bath. They hadn’t had a bath in days, and I told them at the restaurant, I said, 'Well, y’all just load up, and we’ll go to the house and all clean up and get a shower.'"

B&B Cafe interior [Butch Morgan, owner, in foreground], circa 1962. Martin J. Dain Collection, Southern Media Archive,  University of Mississippi Special Collections.

Go here for more on James Meredith and the integration of Ole Miss.

Visit the Ole Miss website for more on how the university is commemorating the anniversary.

Meet more subjects from our Restaurants of Oxford's Past oral history project.