On October 1, 1962, after multiple attempts, the University of Mississippi was integrated. The student was James Meredith, a 29-year-old black air force veteran and Mississippi native.
Meredith applied to the all-white university in 1961. He was initially admitted, but had his admission withdrawn when school officials became aware of his race. Meredith filed a discrimination suit. The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in June of 1962, and was ruled in Meredith’s favor.
He arrived on campus to register for classes on September 20. However, he was blocked from entering the school by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, a proponent of segregation. Meredith was slated to make another attempt to register on September 30. Angry mobs formed on campus and rioting ensued. Two people were killed, and many more injured.
The following day, accompanied by federal marshals sent by President John F. Kennedy, James Meredith successfully enrolled at Ole Miss and attended his first day of classes. University students were told that it was their constitutional right to refuse “to socialize or fraternize with an undesirable student.” Though Meredith successfully integrated and became the first black student to graduate from the University of Mississippi on August 18, 1963, his time at the school was marred by isolation, harassment, and violence, including rioting on campus and shotgun blasts fired into Meredith’s home.
Hosted by the late D’Army Bailey, Moments in Civil Rights History is produced in collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative and is part of Comcast NBCUniversal’s “His Dream, Our Stories” project. Visit www.hisdreamourstories.com for more Civil Rights History, first hand accounts from those who led, participated in, or benefited from the Movement, or to share a civil rights story of your own (or that of a loved one).
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