Most editorial comment cut the same way. "Dear as the athletic prestige of our schools may be," opined the Meridian Star, "our southern way of life is infinitely more precious." An editor of the Jackson Daily News wrote that "a crack at a mythical national championship isn't worth subjecting young Mississippians to the switchblade knife society that integration inevitably spawns." And an editorial in The Clarion-Ledger saw the future more accurately than anyone could have known: "We play integrated teams abroad—next we play integrated teams at home—next we recruit Negro stars to strengthen our teams—and the fast cycle of integration is completed."
In a restaurant in Leland, Miss., as supporters of NCAA participation circulated a petition that already carried more than 200 names, a man grabbed it and set it alight. Without saying a word, he threw it on the floor and stormed out the door.
One phrase in Colvard's statement—"unless hindered by competent authority"—sounded like a dare, and on March 5 the president learned that someone had taken him up on it. The state college board announced it would meet in special session four days later to review Colvard's decision. By now the president was taking pills to help him sleep, and the school had posted extra security in his neighborhood. Few knew that, if the board reversed him, Colvard intended to resign. Sometimes the burden seemed heavy enough that he hoped it would, so he could quit.
The move to convene the board came from a trustee from Hattiesburg, M.M. Roberts, a tenacious lawyer and proud racist who liked to play golf alone, often at a trot. He called the issue at hand "the greatest challenge to our way of life since Reconstruction." Several days earlier he had reached Colvard's wife, Martha, on the phone and told her that her husband had "ruined the state."
The board met on a Saturday, in a government office building in Jackson, the state capital. Outside, four young men held signs reading DON'T CONFUSE THE NCAA WITH THE NAACP and DON'T DISCRIMINATE AGAINST WHITES, LET STATE PLAY. Five women showed up with petitions in opposition. Within an hour the board had voted 8-3 to support Colvard's decision, then added a 9-2 vote of confidence in his leadership. Roberts introduced a motion to ask that the president resign, but it died for lack of a second.
In fact, back in February, Colvard had sounded out the board and concluded that eight of its 12 members opposed going on record in favor of having the team play in the NCAAs. Then he broached the issue differently: Would the board be willing to support his right to make the decision? A narrow majority indicated that it would. Now he discovered that all those members had been true to their word, plus a few more for good measure. Governor Ross Barnett had already announced his opposition to the team's participation, declaring it "not in the best interests of Mississippi State University, the state of Mississippi, or either of the races." But Colvard had also correctly guessed that, for all his bluster, the governor wasn't likely to intercede. Ole Miss had nearly lost its accreditation because of his meddling in the Meredith crisis, and even a demagogue like Barnett had his limits.
"It looks like we are about to lose our Southern way of life," Roberts told the press upon emerging from the meeting. One of the petitioners, a Mrs. E.A. Elam of Jackson, wagged a finger in the face of board chairman and Colvard supporter T.J. Tubb and said, "You've got blood on your hands!"
Verner Holmes, a doctor from McComb, had been the board member most forceful in his support of the president. Shortly after the vote, a cross was burned on the lawn of his weekend home on the Bogue Chitto River.
Late on the following Wednesday afternoon, the eve of the team's scheduled departure for East Lansing, Colvard was returning to his office from the gym, where he had just met with the players to wish them well. An aide stopped him on the quad to share the news: Two residents of Enterprise—Mitts, the state senator and former Mississippi State cheerleader, and a judge named B.W. Lawson—had gotten a sympathetic chancery court judge to issue an injunction to keep the school from violating "the public policies of the State of Mississippi." Not knowing exactly who had been named in the writ or when the process servers might arrive from Jackson, Colvard ordered five school officials to meet him at the home of a booster, surgeon Dempsey Strange, on the edge of town. For several hours no one could locate McCarthy, so Colvard dispatched Strange, who found the coach sitting in his car outside a hamburger stand, munching away. Strange dragged McCarthy into his own car, ordered him to crouch down on the floorboards, and drove him to yet another spot where the group had reconvened, a dairy farm up the road from Strange's house.
Back in the athletic dorm, several players learned of the injunction from a news bulletin on the radio. Mitchell dared his teammates to pile into his car and head for Michigan, right then and there. "Mitch wanted to play pro ball and wanted the exposure," says Hutton. "He said, 'We need to head out tonight. Who-all else has a car?' " By now much of the student body, already gathered for a pep rally, had heard the news too. A group of them hung Mitts and Lawson in effigy.