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James Meredith

From Academic Kids

James Howard Meredith (born June 25, 1933) is an American civil rights movement figure, although he vocally prefers not to be regarded as such.

He was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi of Native American (Choctaw) and African American heritage. Meredith 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.

In 1962 he became the first black student at the University of Mississippi after being barred from entering on September 20. His enrollment, opposed by Governor Ross Barnett, required federal troops to enforce and led to a violent clash which left two people dead, 48 soldiers injured and 30 U.S. Marshals with gun wounds. His actions are regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights. He graduated on August 18, 1963.

After his time at the University of Mississippi, Meredith continued his education at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria (1964-65) and at Columbia University (1966-68). 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 a sniper on June 6. As an author he wrote a memoir of his days at the University of Mississippi and several self-published books. He was an active Republican and served for several years as a domestic advisor on the staff of United States Senator Jesse Helms.

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 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, he was the proprietor of a small used car lot in Jackson, Mississippi. On the celebration activities surrounding the 40th anniversary Meredith said, "It was an embarrassment for me to be there, and for somebody to celebrate it, oh my God."

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 US civil rights movement. There is considerable disrespect 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".

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."

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 0385499698

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