In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in police custody May 25 in Minneapolis, observers say law enforcement attacks on journalists have hit unprecedented levels. Yet the phenomenon of journalists being subjected to violence during race-related unrest is not new.
In 1962, the campus of the University of Mississippi became the site of what one student called “the last battle of the Civil War.” As James Meredith attempted to enroll at the University with the assistance of U.S. marshals, a battle raged during the evening of September 30 and the morning of October 1. Historian William Doyle, in his book An American Insurrection, documented multiple attacks on journalists.
“Newsweek photographer Dan McCoy was suddenly attacked by a gang led by a bloody-shirted football player who pummeled him to the ground with a right punch. McCoy got up and was flattened again,” Doyle wrote at pages 140-141.
A local country doctor named Lloyd Gerald (“Gerre”) Hopkins showed up at the University’s Lyceum building on the evening of Sunday, September 30. The Lyceum held the University Registrar’s Office and became a focal point for the U.S. marshals trying to protect the building where, presumably, James Meredith would go to register for classes the next day. The Lyceum held wounded marshals and journalists. One Associated Press reporter, Bill Crider, lay on the Lyceum floor until Dr. Hopkins arrived. “I’ve been shot,” he told the doctor. “Am I dying?” Dr. Hopkins removed buckshot pellets from Crider’s back and patched up his wounds. Crider, according to Doyle’s account, then “went out to patrol the halls and continue taking notes for his story, shirt off, a giant bandage wrapped around his torso” (page 209).
The most tragic incident involving a journalist was the death of Paul Guihard, a British army veteran working for Agence France-Presse. Guihard was shot in the back at close range during the melee. Doyle records, “Guihard’s killer has never been identified, let alone arrested or prosecuted. With his fiery red goatee and tall, bulky build, Guihard not only stood out, but was clearly an outsider from far away and might have been mistaken as a ‘beatnik’ type. He may not have hidden his camera yet, which could have identified him as a hated journalist. Either perception could have been lethal for him” (page 165).