On October 1, 1962—50 years ago today—the University of Mississippi was finally integrated 115 after its founding when James Meredith successfully enrolled in classes.
Meredith, a United States Air Force veteran, had spent the previous sixteen months repeatedly attempting to enroll and fighting for this right in the courts. On September 20th, armed with a court order, Meredith attempted to enter campus, but was blocked both by white mobs and by the state’s governor, Ross Barnett.
It was a turbulent time. A riot resulted in two deaths and many injuries; however, Meredith was determined to see it through. He was finally successfully enrolled on October 1—but only after President John F. Kennedy condemned the rioters and the state officials who sought to ignore the court order. Protected by National Guard troops and military police, Meredith endured months of discrimination and threats.
Less than a year after he integrated the school, on August 18, 1963, Meredith received his bachelor of arts in political science. The New York Times ran an article and picture of Meredith front and center that day (click here to see a copy of the August 18 article, provided by the digital archives).
Meredith continued to play a role in the civil rights struggle. Several years later, he planned a solitary march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to dispel fears of life in Mississippi and encourage other African Americans to register to vote. During this March Against Fear, Meredith was shot and wounded.
To learn more about James Meredith and the University’s integration, check out this page from the U.S. Marshals website, and this page from the UPI blog.
To learn more about James Meredith, click here, and check out Charles W. Eagles’ The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss (UNC Press 2009).