Bob Dylan often served as a voice for those who could not speak. He used his status to shed light on the many social injustices present in society throughout the 1960s. In his songs Oxford Town and INSERT TITLE HERE, Dylans storytelling educated listeners on the misfortunes minorities had to encounter in daily life.
The first song that I will be analyzing is Dylans 1963 song titled Oxford Town. While the song is much shorter than most of Dylans other songs, the story behind the lyrics remains a monumental part of American history.
It is well known that the song is based on the story of James Meredith and how he became the first African-American student enrolled at the University of Mississippi in 1962 (Longley). Dylan wrote this song for a competition held by Broadside magazine, an instrumental underground magazine centered around the folk revival (Glaser), in which they were holding an open invitation for songs about Merediths story.
Ultimately, Dylans song Oxford Town was chosen and was recorded and released in 1963.
Lyrically, Oxford Town outlines Merediths journey of becoming a student at the University of Mississippi, also known as Ole Miss, and gives an overview of the problems he encountered along the way. The lines He went down to Oxford Town. Guns and clubs followed him down. All because his face was brown. describe the beginning of Merediths story. Dylan uses the term Oxford Town in the song because Ole Miss is located in the town of Oxford, Mississippi.
The locals around Ole Miss did not welcome Meredith with open arms. He was subjected to extreme racism and racial tensions were high around this time. The following lines continue to express the racism occurring as James Meredith was trying to attend the university. Dylan says, He couldn’t get in. All because of the color of his skin. At first, James Merediths application to Ole Miss was accepted, but was rejected once the university discovered that he was African American. However, Meredith should have been accepted because the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka protected his rights as an African American. In the case, it was declared that segregation in schools and universities violated the Fourteenth Amendment, thus making segregation unconstitutional (Duignan). With this, Meredith took the University of Mississippi to court in order to be allowed to be a student there. The U.S. Supreme Court requested the University of Mississippi to accept Merediths application, but this ruling was met with massive public outcry (Longley). When Meredith arrived on campus, riots broke out in hopes of stopping him from registering for classes. Dylan incorporates the severity of these riots in the song with these lines, Me and my gal, my gal’s son, we got met with a tear gas bomb. As the riots escalated and attracted thousands of people at nightfall, U.S. Marshals tried to control the scene with tear gas (American Public Media). The concluding lines of the song describes the outcome of the riots. Dylan says, Two men died ‘neath the Mississippi moon, somebody better investigate soon. Despite the Marshals efforts to calm down the riots, two men, Paul Guihard and Ray Gunter, were killed (Sitton). Dylan remembers the two lives lost and appears to be addressing the fact that they deserved justice.