April V. Taylor
James Meredith is best known for being the first Black person to enroll at the University of Mississippi. After being inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, Meredith applied to and was accepted to Ole Miss to challenge race relations in the South and desegregate the school under the Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court.
With the backing of 538 federal law enforcement officers, 106 of whom were injured during the violent confrontation between students and Deputies, Meredith was able to register for classes at Ole Miss. Bullet marks on the columns of the iconic Lyceum building on campus are still visible to this day.
While enrolled at Ole Miss, Meredith’s roommate was Cleve McDowell, the second Black student to attend the school. After working as a civil rights attorney and public defender in Mississippi, McDowell was shot and killed by a teenager in 1997.
After graduating from Ole Miss in 1963 with a degree in political science, Meredith went on to earn a masters in economics from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria as well as a law degree from Columbia University.
Not only did Meredith continue with his education, he also continued with his activism, undertaking a planned solo 220-mile “March Against Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi to encourage Blacks to vote and dispel fears of racism in the state. The Voting Rights Act had just been passed the year before, but racism and disenfranchisement continued in the South. Meredith was unable to complete the march after being shot on the second day.
Civil rights leaders and people from all over the country vowed to complete the march, and Meredith rejoined the march before it reached Jackson, leading an estimated 15,000 people in what was the largest civil rights march in Mississippi.
After losing bids to serve in Congress as a Republican representative or a senator, Meredith served as a domestic adviser to Senator Jesse Helms. He also wrote several books, chronicling his experiences integrating the University of Mississippi and then also writing a memoir and a children’s book.