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James Meredith was born on this date in 1933. He was an African American politician and activist.
Meredith was born in Kosciusko, MS. While attending Jackson State College, he was twice rejected in 1961 to attend the University of Mississippi. Meredith filed a complaint with the district court on May 31, 1961. Meredith's allegation of denied admission because of his color was rejected. However, on appeal, the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court reversed this ruling. By a 2 to 1 decision the judges decided that Mississippi was maintaining a policy of educational segregation. He was the first Black person to be admitted to the University of Mississippi.
Meredith's admission to the University of Mississippi was opposed by state officials and students. Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent federal marshals to protect Meredith from threats of lynching and other harm. Riots followed Kennedy's decision, in which 160 marshals were wounded (28 by gunfire) and two bystanders were killed. Despite all of this, Meredith continued to study at the University of Mississippi and graduated in 1964. Meredith's account of this experience at the university, "Three Years in Mississippi," was published in 1966.
On June 5, 1966, Meredith started a solitary March against Fear from Memphis to Jackson, to protest against racism; he was shot by sniper. Soon, other civil rights campaigners, including the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and Floyd McKissick continued the march in Meredith's name. When the marchers got to Greenwood, MS, Carmichael made his famous Black Power speech. After hospital treatment Meredith rejoined the March as they arrived in Jackson. Once again the American Civil Rights movement had shown that it would not give in to white racism.
After leaving the University of Mississippi as a student, Meredith continued his education at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and at Columbia University. Meredith stopped being a civil rights activist in the late 1960s and found employment as a stockbroker. Meredith joined the Republican Party and made several attempts to be elected to Congress. He became increasingly conservative, and in 1988, accused liberal whites as 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 1997, Meredith presented his papers to the University of Mississippi where they are maintained by the Special Collections branch of the J.D. Williams Library. A highly independent man, Meredith has identified as an individual American citizen who demanded and received the constitutional rights held by any American, not as a participant in the American Civil Rights Movement. There have been tensions between him and leaders of major organizations of the movement. When interviewed in 2002, the 40th anniversary of his enrollment at University of Mississippi, Meredith said, "Nothing could be more insulting to me than the concept of civil rights. It means perpetual second-class citizenship for me and my kind."
The Department of English,
University of Mississippi,
University, MS 38677.