James Meredith Tells Ole Miss There's More to Be Done

The university he integrated in 1962, under guard, honors pioneer
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 1, 2022 5:20 PM CDT
The University He Integrated Honors James Meredith
James Meredith attends graduation in August 1963, where he received a bachelor's degree.   (AP Photo/Jim Bourdier, File)

The University of Mississippi is paying tribute to 89-year-old James Meredith 60 years after white protesters erupted into violence as he became the first Black student to enroll in what was then a bastion of Deep South segregation. On Saturday, Meredith was honored during the Ole Miss-Kentucky football game, receiving a framed Ole Miss jersey with the number 62—the year he integrated the university. The ceremony, one of a series of events, happened two days after Meredith spoke to players at a Rebels practice, the AP reports. "He came and revolutionized our thinking. He came to open our closed society," Donald Cole, a former university official, said during a celebration Wednesday night.

The enigmatic Meredith, who lives in Jackson, has long resisted the label of civil rights leader. He says his effort to enter Ole Miss was his own battle against white supremacy. His being honored at the Ole Miss-Kentucky game was an ironic echo of history. Two days before Meredith enrolled on the Oxford campus in 1962, Gov. Ross Barnett worked a white crowd into a frenzy at a football stadium in Jackson. Ole Miss fans waved Confederate flags to support their Rebels over the Kentucky Wildcats—and to defy any move toward racial integration. "I love Mississippi," Barnett declared. "I love her people! Our customs! I love and I respect our heritage!" The next evening, Barnett quietly agreed with US Attorney General Robert Kennedy to let Meredith enter Mississippi's oldest public university. Meredith already had a federal court order.

White mobs erupted when he arrived on campus, protected by more than 500 federal law enforcement officers. Meredith enrolled on Oct. 1. Ethel Scurlock, the first Black dean of the university's honors college, said during her keynote speech Wednesday that she had not yet been born when Meredith integrated Ole Miss in 1962 or when he was shot soon after setting out on his March Against Fear in 1966. "But Mr. Meredith, I am here today," Scurlock said. “I am the unborn baby that you were willing to go to war for." Meredith told the audience: "In my opinion, this is the best day I ever lived. But there's some more truth. Celebration is good. I don't think there's anybody in this house or in the state of Mississippi that think the problem has been solved."

(More University of Mississippi stories.)

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