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Opinion: Columnists

Holder needs to brush up on his civil rights history

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Photo - NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 28:  Attorney General Eric Holder addresses the media following a vote in the House of Representatives at the U.S. Attorney's Office Eastern District of Louisiana office on June 28, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The House has voted to hold Attourney General Holder in contempmt of Congress.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 28: Attorney General Eric Holder addresses the media following a vote in the House of Representatives at the U.S. Attorney's Office Eastern District of Louisiana office on June 28, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The House has voted to hold Attourney General Holder in contempmt of Congress. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Opinion,Gregory Kane,Columnists

Remember that controversial rap song that came out about four years ago called "Read A Book"?

A description really can't do it justice, but it's not the kind of rap song you think. The rapper that made the song took creative license to criticize other blacks who can read, but simply don't.

After Attorney General Eric Holder's remarks commemorating the 50th anniversary of how federal officials coped with the riot at the University of Mississippi in 1962, I'm starting to think the nation's chief law enforcement officer might need to read a book.

I have one specifically he should read: William Doyle's "An American Insurrection: The Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962."

Some background: In the early 1960s a black Mississippian named James Meredith attempted to enroll in the law school of the university known as Ole Miss. That sounds harmless today, but back in the segregated Mississippi of the early 1960s it was an act of insurrection.

Medgar Evers, then field secretary of the Mississippi branch of the NAACP, helped Meredith through the process of applying to, and being accepted into, the University of Mississippi School of Law. (Evers himself had tried to enroll in the Ole Miss law school in the 1950s, but his wife Myrlie and other family members prevailed on him to abandon the effort.)

Meredith was accepted and prepared to start classes in the fall of 1962. But diehard segregationists in Mississippi were determined to have none of it.

They rioted, battling and injuring a contingent of U.S. marshals sent to the school to assure Meredith's peaceful enrollment. Doyle's book shows how the late President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy, then the nation's attorney general, nearly botched the Ole Miss crisis from start to finish.

Last week, in his speech commemorating Meredith's enrollment, Holder, according to a news story on nola.com, "highlighted the role of marshals and other Justice Department officials in the Ole Miss case, all the way up to Attorney General Robert Kennedy."

Highlighted? The Ole Miss crisis was a lowlight for both Kennedy brothers. Doyle explained why in his book.

In the news story I mentioned, readers learn that "President John F. Kennedy took over units of the Mississippi National Guard and then deployed regular U.S. Army troops to keep the peace and make sure Meredith stayed in class until he graduated 10 months later."

There's quite a bit left out in that sentence. What President Kennedy did -- with the acquiescence of his attorney general -- was order the resegregation of a fully integrated military police battalion before he sent the unit to quell the riot in Oxford.

Neither Kennedy brother, you see, thought it prudent to offend rioting white racists and lawbreakers.

The unit was resegregated over the protest of its commanders, who said the unit couldn't function without its black personnel, many of whom were sergeants in supervisory positions.

The counsel of those wiser heads did not prevail. President Kennedy ordered the military police battalion into Oxford without its black personnel.

Doyle gives the details of this shameful incident in his book. (Shameful, that is, to the rest of us. Neither of the Kennedy brothers probably considered it shameful because both were Democrats, and then, as now, Democrats simply have no shame.)

The Kennedy brothers blew it in the Ole Miss riot crisis. It wasn't the first time they blew it in the area of civil rights.

One year earlier, Robert Kennedy tried to get James Farmer, founder of the Congress of Racial Equality, to call off a Freedom Ride in the Deep South.

"We need a cooling-off period," Kennedy told Farmer, according to Farmer's autobiography "Lay Bare the Heart."

"We've been cooling off for 400 years," Farmer answered. "If we cool off any more we'll be in a deep freeze."

Farmer claimed he was persona non grata with both Kennedy brothers after that. Looks like you'll need to read two books, Mr. Holder.

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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