James Meredith becomes the University of Mississippi's first Black student.
(Photo: Courtesy of WikiCommons)
James Meredith captured the world's attention in 1975 when, on Sept. 30, he became the first African-American to attend the segregated University of Mississippi. After several years in the Air Force, Meredith returned to his home state and enrolled in Jackson State College. After President John Kennedy won election, in part with the help of African-Americans, he felt the time was right to try to tear down some racial barriers and applied to the University of Mississippi in 1961. Predictably, he was denied admission. Unwilling to back down, Meredith sought help from members of the civil rights community, including Thurgood Marshall, who headed the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund at the time. After a court battle, the institution was forced to accept Meredith and allow him to enroll, but many others did not accept the decision. As a result of the ensuing violent response, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy had to call in federal marshalls to escort him on campus. "Just having a Negro in residence does not mean that the university has been integrated," Meredith later wrote. "Most of the time, I am perhaps the most segregated Negro in the world."
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