As of the 2010 US Census, the population is 18,916; the Census Bureau estimates the city's 2013 population at 20,865. Oxford is the home of the University of Mississippi, founded in 1848, also commonly known as "Ole Miss", although the university is officially located in University, Mississippi.
Oxford has been named by USA Today as one of the top six college towns in the nation. It is included in The Best 100 Small Towns in America. Lafayette County consistently leads the state rankings in the lowest unemployment rate per quarter. Oxford City Schools are ranked as "Star" schools, the highest ranking available, and Lafayette County school systems are consistently ranked as "5-star" systems.
Oxford and Lafayette County were formed from lands ceded by the Chickasaw in the treaty of Pontotoc Creek in 1832. The county was organized in 1836, and in 1837 three pioneers—John Martin, John Chisom, and John Craig—purchased land from Hoka, a female Chickasaw landowner, as a site for the town. They named it Oxford, intending to promote it as a center of learning in the Old Southwest. In 1841, the Mississippi legislature selected Oxford as the site of the state university, which opened in 1848.
During the American Civil War, Oxford suffered invasion by federal troops under Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman in 1862; in 1864 Major General Andrew Jackson Smith burned the buildings in the town square, including the county courthouse. In the postwar Reconstruction Era, the town recovered slowly, aided by federal judge Robert Andrews Hill, who secured funds to build a new courthouse in 1872. During this period many African American freedmen moved from farms into town and established a neighborhood known as "Freedmen Town", where they built houses, businesses, churches and schools, and exercised all the rights of citizenship. Even after Mississippi disfranchised most African Americans in the Constitution of 1890, they continued to build their lives in the face of discrimination.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Oxford gained national attention in 1962 as state officials attempted to prevent James Meredith, an African American, from enrolling at the University of Mississippi after being admitted by a federal court. After President John F. Kennedy, following negotiations with Governor Ross Barnett, ordered United States Marshals to protect him, Meredith traveled to Oxford under armed guard to register in late September 1962, and riots broke out in protest of his admittance. Thousands of armed "volunteers" flowed into the Oxford area to prevent Meredith's admittance. During a night of riots by segregationists, cars were burned, federal marshals were pelted with rocks, bricks, small arms fire and university property was damaged; two men were killed by gunshot wounds. The riot spread into adjacent areas of the city of Oxford. Order was restored to the campus with the early morning arrival of nationalized Mississippi National Guard and regular U.S. Army units, who camped in the City.
Oxford is located at the confluence of highways from eight directions: Mississippi highway 6 (now co-signed with US-278) runs west to Batesville and east to Pontotoc; highway 7 runs north to Holly Springs and south to Water Valley. Highway 30 goes northeast to New Albany; highway 334 ("Old Highway 6") southeast to Toccopola; Taylor Road southwest to Taylor, and highway 314 ("Old Sardis Road") northwest, formerly to Sardis but now to the Clear Creek Recreation Area on Sardis Lake.
The streets in the downtown area follow a grid pattern with two naming conventions. Many of the north-south streets are numbered from west to east, beginning at the old railroad depot, with numbers from four to nineteen. The place of "Twelfth Street," however, is taken by North and South Lamar Boulevard (formerly North and South Streets). The east-west avenues are named for the U.S. presidents in chronological order from north to south, from Washington to Cleveland; here again, there are gaps: John Quincy Adams would be indistinguishable from John Adams; "Polk Avenue" is replaced by University Avenue, and "Arthur Avenue" is lacking.
The median income for a household in the city was $38,872, and the average household income was $64,643. The per capita income for the city was $29,195. About 12% of families and 32.3% of the population were below the poverty line.
The Baptist Memorial Hospital - North Mississippi, located in Oxford provides comprehensive health care services for Oxford and the surrounding area, supported by a growing number of physicians, clinics and support facilities. The North Mississippi Regional Center, a state-licensed Intermediate Care Facility for the Mentally Retarded, is located in Oxford.
Oxford is home to the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi's School of Pharmacy. The Center is the only facility in the United States that is federally licensed to cultivate marijuana for scientific research, and for distribution to patients who are allowed marijuana for medical purposes.
The City of Oxford operates public transportation under the name Oxford-University Transit (OUT), with bus routes throughout the city and University of Mississippi campus. Ole Miss students and faculty ride free upon showing University identification.
William Faulkner adopted Oxford as his hometown after growing up there when his family moved to Oxford from nearby New Albany when he was three. Oxford is the model for the city "Jefferson" in his fiction, and Lafayette County, Mississippi, was the model for his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. His former home, Rowan Oak, now owned by the University of Mississippi and recently remodeled, is a favorite tourist attraction in Oxford. Several members of Faulkner's family still live in the Oxford and Lafayette County area.
Oxford has been called the art center of the South. Famous artists include photorealist painter Glennray Tutor; figurative painter Jere Allen; expressionist painter Paula Temple; portraitist Jason Bouldin, sculptor William Beckwith; sculptor Rod Moorhead; and primitive artist Theora Hamblett (1895–1977). New Orleans artist John McCrady (1911–1968) studied art at Ole Miss.
L.Q.C. Lamar (1825–1893), U.S. senator and supreme court justice, resided in Oxford, where he served as professor of mathematics at the University of Mississippi, farmed, and practiced law. He was the son-in-law of university chancellor Augustus Baldwin Longstreet. Lamar's home in Oxford has recently been restored (2008) as a museum.
The courthouse square, called "The Square", is the geographic and cultural center of the city. In addition to the historic Lafayette County Courthouse, the Square is known for an abundance of locally owned restaurants, specialty boutiques, and professional offices, along with Oxford City Hall.
The J. E. Neilson Co., located on the southeast corner of the square is the South's oldest documented store. Founded as a trading post in 1839, Neilson's continues to anchor the Oxford square. When the Great Depression hit Oxford and most of the banks in town closed, Neilson's acted as a surrogate bank, cashing paychecks for university employees and others.
Square Books, a local bookstore founded in 1979, is consistently ranked among the best independent bookstores in the country. A sister store, Off Square Books, which is several doors down the street to the east, deals in used and remainder books and is the venue for a radio show called Thacker Mountain Radio, with host Jim Dees, that is broadcast state-wide on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The show often draws comparisons to Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion for its mix of author readings and musical guests. A third store, Square Books Jr., deals exclusively in children's books and educational toys.
The Lyric, just off the courthouse square, is Oxford's largest music venue, with a capacity near 1200. Originally built in the late 1800s, the structure became a livery stable owned by William Faulkner’s family in the early part of the 20th century. During the 1920s it became Oxford's first motion picture theater, the Lyric. In 1949, Faulkner walked from his home in Oxford to his childhood stable for the world premiere of MGM’s Intruder in the Dust, adapted from one of his novels. Abandoned for many years, the building housed office space and a health center from the early 1980s. After extensive restoration, the Lyric reopened on 3 July 2008 as a live music venue. It also is used occasionally for film and live drama.