James Meredith

James Meredith

Infobox Person
name = James Meredith

image_size = 187px
caption = James Meredith.
birth_date = birth date and age|1933|06|25
birth_place = Kosciusko, Mississippi
known_for = becoming the first black student at the University of Mississippi
education = LL.B.

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 Mississippi, an event that was a flash point in the American civil rights movement.

Meredith was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi of Native American (Choctaw) and African American heritage. He enlisted in the United States Air Force right out of high school and served from 1951 to 1960. He then attended Jackson State College for two years. He applied to the University of Mississippi, but was denied twice. [cite web | title = James Meredith | work = Spartacus Educational | url = http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAmeredith.htm | accessdate = 2007-10-02 ]

On October 1, 1962, he became the first black student at the University of Mississippi, [cite web | title = 1962: Mississippi race riots over first black student | work = BBC News - On this day | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/1/newsid_2538000/2538169.stm | accessdate = 2007-10-02 ] after being barred from entering on September 20. His enrollment, virulently opposed by segregationist Governor Ross Barnett, sparked riots on the Oxford campus, which required 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 French journalist Paul Guihard, [cite web | title = Though the Heavens Fall (5 of 7) | work = TIME | url = http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,829233-5,00.html | accessdate = 2007-10-03 ] 48 soldiers injured and 30 U.S. Marshals with gun wounds. Barnett was fined $10,000 and sentenced to jail for contempt but he never paid the fine or served time. This was because the charges were 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 graduated on August 18, 1963 with a degree in political science.

Time at the University of Mississippi

Many students harassed Meredith during his first 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.

Life after graduation

Meredith continued his education at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. 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 led a civil rights march, the March Against Fear from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi in 1966 and was wounded by sniper Aubrey James Norvell on June 6. [cite web | title = 6 June 1966: Black civil rights activist shot | work = BBC News - On this day | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/6/newsid_3009000/3009967.stm | accessdate = 2007-10-02 ] The photograph of Meredith after being shot won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in 1967. [cite web | title = The Pulitzer Prize Winners - 1967 | work = The Pulitzer Board | url = http://www.pulitzer.org/awards/1967 | accessdate = 2008-09-29 ]

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 Congress, 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.cite web |title=James Meredith, a differing view of segregation! |publisher=The African American Registry |date=2005 |url=http://www.aaregistry.com/african_american_history/2608/James_Meredith_a_differing_view_of_segregation |accessdate=2006-10-11 ] He also opposed economic sanctions against South Africa and making the birthday of Martin Luther King a national holiday.

In 2002, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his desegregation of the University of Mississippi, at the age of 69, Meredith was the proprietor of a small used car lot in Jackson, Mississippi. 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." [cite web | title = Meredith ready to move on | work = OnlineAthens | url = http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/092102/new_20020921041.shtml | accessdate = 2007-10-02 ] Around this same time, Meredith was the special guest speaker for a seminar at Mississippi State University. Among other topics, Meredith spoke of his experiences at the University of Mississippi. 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 dignify the question with any further response. 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.

Earlier that same year, Mr. Meredith watched his son, Joseph Meredith, graduate from Ole Miss with a doctorate in Business Administration. Joseph, who had previously earned degrees from Harvard University 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." [cite web | title = James Meredith returns to see son take top honors at Ole Miss - noteworthy news - University of Mississippi Brief Article | work = Black Issues in Higher Education | url =http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0DXK/is_8_19/ai_87853135 | accessdate = 2007-12-01 ]

James Meredith views himself as an individual American citizen who demanded and got the rights properly extended to any American, not as a participant in the U.S. civil rights movement. There is considerable enmity between James 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." [cite web | title = A Shooting—And the Civil Rights Movement Changes Course | work = AmericanHeritage | url = http://americanheritage.com/articles/web/20060606-james-meredith-education-ole-miss-columbia-segregation-martin-luther-king-black-power-march.shtml | accessdate = 2007-10-02 ]

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." [cite web | title = Mississippi and Meredith remember | work = CNN | url = http://edition.cnn.com/2002/US/South/09/30/meredith/index.html | accessdate = 2007-10-02 ]

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, TX. He was preceded in death by his mother Mary June Wiggins Meredith and left behind a daughter, Jasmine Victoria.

James Meredith is currently living in Jackson, Mississippi with his wife, Judy Alsobrook Meredith. He has one daughter, Jessica Meredith Knight and two surviving sons, James Meredith and John Meredith.


Further reading

*Three Years in Mississippi, James Meredith, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 1966. This book is readily available in the used book market and libraries.
*Mississippi: A Volume of Eleven Books, James Meredith, Jackson, Mississippi: Meredith Publishing, 1995. This self-published set is quite rare.
*An American Insurrection: The Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962, William Doyle, Doubleday, 2001, hardcover, ISBN 0-385-49969-8
*Mary Stanton, Freedom Walk: Mississippi or Bust (University Press of Mississippi) ISBN 1-57806-505-4,
*Sons of Mississippi, Paul Hendrickson, ISBN 0-375-40461-9. Contains revealing interviews with Meredith conducted by the author.

External links

* [http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/meredith_james/ University of Mississippi biography]
* [http://purl.oclc.org/umarchives/MUM00293/ James Meredith Collection (MUM00293) can be found at the University of Mississippi, Archives and Special Collections.]
* [http://purl.oclc.org/umarchives/MUM00594/ James Meredith Small Manuscripts (MUM00594) can be found also at the University of Mississippi.]
* [http://www.cnn.com/2002/US/South/09/30/meredith/index.html CNN: "Mississippi and Meredith remember"]
* [http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/092102/new_20020921041.shtml Associated Press: "Meredith ready to move on"]
* [http://www.usmarshals.gov/history/miss/index.html U.S. Marshals Service and the Integration of the University of Mississippi]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/1/newsid_2538000/2538169.stm BBC On this day in History 1 October 1962]
* [http://www.jfklibrary.org/meredith/jm.html Facsimiles of letters to the Justice Department and Thurgood Marshall from the Kennedy library]

NAME= Meredith, James
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= James H. Meredith (full name)
SHORT DESCRIPTION=An American civil rights movement figure. He was the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi
DATE OF BIRTH= 1933-06-25
PLACE OF BIRTH= Kosciusko, Mississippi

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