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James H. Meredith (born June 25, 1933) is an American civil rights movement figure. He was the first African-American student at the University of Mississippimarker, an event that was a flash point in the American civil rights movement. Motivated by the broadcast of President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, Meredith decided to apply his democratic rights and then made the ultimate decision to apply to the University of Mississippi.

Entrance to the University of Mississippi

Meredith was born in Kosciusko, Mississippimarker of Native American (Choctaw) and Black American heritage. He enlisted in the United States Air Force immediately after high school and served from 1951 to 1960. He then attended Jackson State College for two years. He then applied to the University of Mississippi, saying that he wanted to make this move in the interest of his country, race, family, and himself. Meredith stated, "I am familiar with the probable difficulties involved in such a move as I am undertaking and I am fully prepared to pursue it all the way to a degree from the University of Mississippi." However, even after all the trouble he went through he was denied twice. On May 31, 1961, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a suit in the U.S. District Court alleging that the color of his skin was the only reason for Meredith not being accepted into the university. The case went through many hearings and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that he had the right to be admitted. Though Meredith was now allowed to register to the school, the Governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, blocked him in any way that he could think of; even passing a law that “prohibited any person who was convicted of a state crime from admission to a state school.” This law was obviously directed right at Meredith who had been convicted of “false voter registration.”

After going through so much hard work and waiting, a deal was finally made between the Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Governor Barnett and Meredith was allowed to attend Ole Miss. On October 1, 1962, he became the first black student at the University of Mississippimarker, after being barred from entering on September 20. His enrollment, virulently opposed by segregationist Governor Ross Barnett, sparked riots on the Oxford campus, and required enforcement by federal troops and U.S. Marshals, who were sent by President John F. Kennedy. The riots led to a violent clash which left two people dead, including Frenchmarker journalist Paul Guihard, on assignment for the London Daily Sketch, who was found behind a dormitory block with a gunshot wound to the back. 48 soldiers were injured and 28 U.S. Marshals were wounded by gunfire. Barnett was fined $10,000 and sentenced to jail for contempt, but the charges were later dismissed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Bob Dylan sang about the incident in his song Oxford Town. Meredith's actions are regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in the United States. He was finally registered at the University of Mississippi where he stayed to finish his education and graduate on August 18, 1963 with a degree in political science.

Many students harassed Meredith during his two semesters on campus. Though the majority of students accepted Meredith's presence, according to first person accounts chronicled in Nadine Cohodas's book The Band Played Dixie, students living in Meredith's dorm bounced basketballs on the floor just above his room through all hours of the night. When Meredith walked into the cafeteria for meals, the students eating would all turn their backs. If Meredith sat at a table with other students, all of whom were white, the students would immediately get up and go to another table.

After graduation

Meredith continued his education at the University of Ibadan in Nigeriamarker. He received an LL.B (law degree) from Columbia University in 1968. Meredith ceased being a civil rights activist in the late 1960s and found employment as a stockbroker.

He organized and led a civil rights march, the March Against Fear from Memphis, Tennesseemarker to Jackson, Mississippimarker on June 6, 1966. This was Meredith's attempt to draw peoples attention to black voting rights in the South and to help blacks overcome fear of violence. During this march he was wounded by sniper Aubrey James Norvell. The photograph of Meredith after being shot won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in 1967. J. B. Lenoir sings about this incident in the song "Shot on James Meredith".

As an author Meredith wrote a memoir of his days at the University of Mississippi entitled Three Years in Mississippi, published by the Indiana University Press in 1966, and also self-published several books. He was an active Republican and served for several years as a domestic advisor on the staff of United States Senator Jesse Helms. Faced with harsh criticism from the civil rights community, Meredith said that he wrote every member of the Senate and House offering his services to them in order to gain access to the Library of Congressmarker, and that only Helms replied.

Meredith made several attempts to be elected to Congress as a Republican. He became increasingly conservative and in 1988 accused liberal whites of being "the greatest enemy" of African Americans. He also opposed economic sanctions against South Africa and making Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday a national holiday.

In 2002, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his desegregation of the University of Mississippimarker, at the age of 69, Meredith was the proprietor of a small used car lot in Jackson, Mississippimarker. On the celebration activities surrounding the anniversary he said, "It was an embarrassment for me to be there, and for somebody to celebrate it, oh my God." Around this same time, Meredith was the special guest speaker for a seminar at Mississippi State Universitymarker. Among other topics, Meredith spoke of his experiences at the school. During a question and answer session, a young white male in attendance stood up and asked Meredith if he had participated in a formal Rush program while during his historic tenure at the University of Mississippi. Meredith replied, "Doesn't that have something to do with being in a fraternity?" The young man replied "Yes," and Meredith did not respond further. The audience found humor in Meredith's dismissal of the idea that he, who was accompanied by armed military personnel in order to safely attend the university, would be either allowed to or interested in gaining membership into a fraternity at that time.

Anti-Civil Rights stance

Meredith has characterized himself as an individual American citizen who demanded and received the rights properly extended to any American, not as a participant in the U.S. civil rights movement. There is considerable enmity between Meredith and the organized Civil Rights Movement. Meredith once said that "Nothing could be more insulting to me than the concept of civil rights. It means perpetual second-class citizenship for me and my kind".

In an interview for CNN, Meredith stated, "I was engaged in a war. I considered myself engaged in a war from Day One. And my objective was to force the federal government – the Kennedy administration at that time – into a position where they would have to use the United States military force to enforce my rights as a citizen".

After all of his historic work through Ole Miss, more awareness was brought to him when the film Ghosts of Mississippi came out in 1977. The film portrayed the life of Medgar Evers who was Meredith's advisor in the whole integration of Ole Miss.

Personal life

Meredith was married to Mary June Wiggins Meredith who died. He has one daughter, Jessica Meredith Knight and two surviving sons, James Meredith and John Meredith.

On August 23, 1989, a Maine judge sentenced Meredith's son James to one year's house arrest for a 1987 car crash that killed two people. The younger Meredith pleaded no contest to two counts of vehicular manslaughter in the crash that killed Paul Huard, 44, and Kevin Jones, 26. Huard and Jones, who worked with Meredith at a restaurant in Ogunquit, Mainemarker, were riding in Meredith's sports car when it missed a curve and struck a large boulder. The three were returning from a dinner celebration near Bostonmarker. Police said speed and alcohol were factors in the crash. Meredith, 20, was seriously injured.

In 2002 Meredith watched his son, Joseph Meredith, graduate from Ole Missmarker with a doctorate in Business Administration. Joseph, who had previously earned degrees from Harvard Universitymarker and Millsaps College, graduated as the most outstanding doctoral student in the School of Business Administration. The elder Meredith said, "I think there's no better proof that White supremacy was wrong than not only to have my son graduate, but to graduate as the most outstanding graduate of the school," Meredith says. "That, I think, vindicates my whole life".

On February 8, 2008 James Meredith's son, Joseph Howard Meredith, died at age 39 from complications arising from lupus. At the time of his death he was an assistant professor of finance in the College of Business Administration, Division of International Banking and Finance Studies at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texasmarker. He leaves behind a daughter, Jasmine Victoria. .

James Meredith currently lives in Jackson, Mississippimarker with his second wife, Judy Alsobrook Meredith.


Further reading

  • . This book is readily available in the used book market and libraries.
  • . This self-published set is quite rare.
  • . Contains revealing interviews with Meredith conducted by the author.

External links

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