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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Patrick Murphy, January 17, 1978. Interview B-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Intense pressure from segregationist Mississippians

Murphy discusses his decision to leave the University of Mississippi after four years of pressure from anti-integration forces. He wondered for years if he should have stayed to vindicate his academic freedoms. At the time, the issue of academic freedom was more important to him than civil rights. The personal strain his enemies put on him and his family, though, prompted his decision to leave.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William Patrick Murphy, January 17, 1978. Interview B-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SEAN DEVEREUX:
Last time we started talking a little bit about when you left, that for a year or so after you left that you had a feeling that maybe you had capitulated and given them what they wanted. You had second thoughts. Would you talk a little bit about that?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
I don't remember what I told you before, but I'd say yes, for several years after I moved to Missouri and the situation in Mississippi began to change under legal and other pressures, I had second thoughts about whether or not I had done the right thing in resigning. Or whether or not it might have been better to have stayed there and continued to try to vindicate the principle of academic freedom. I never had any thought that I needed to stay in order to work with the civil rights movement as such. The only thought I ever had was whether or not I should have stayed to vindicate the principles of academic freedom and academic integrity, and I was in a unique position to do it. By resigning, I prevented a head-on collision between what they seemed determined to do, which would have resulted in a loss of accreditation of the Law School, and by resigning I just prevented the consummation of that contest in which either the principles that were important would have been vindicated and those people would have lost, or else they would have lost and those principles would have won. But in either event, it would have, I thought from time to time, been a better thing for the state to have had the ultimate confrontation, however it would have been resolved. But it was only in that sense that I really had second thoughts, and those second thoughts lasted for a long time. As to whether or not I might have done a better thing for those principles by staying to vindicate them further.
SEAN DEVEREUX:
Had it become just impossible for you and your family? Were you just taking too much?
WILLIAM PATRICK MURPHY:
Yes, that's the reason we left is because it was just a constant strain, and I couldn't even count the hours' sleep that my wife and I lost over a four-year period. I finally got to the point where, as I say, I didn't know where my income was coming from that September. And I had three kids. And it really got to be, there at the very end, a matter of economics. And there does come a point, I guess, where that has to be taken into account. But I left because we had just had as much of the personal travail as we felt we could take, or wanted to take.