James Meredith made history on Oct. 1, 1962, when he became the first Black student to register at the University of Mississippi. He applied to the institution after spending nine years in the Air Force and two at Jackson State University, an HBCU.
Meredith was twice denied admission because of his race. He fought the discriminatory decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor.
Still, when he first tried to register on Sept. 20, racist whites were so opposed that riots erupted and two people were killed. President John F. Kennedy had to send in the Mississippi National Guard to quell the violence and escort him onto the campus.
The following August he was awarded a bachelor's degree, becoming the first Black to graduate from Ole Miss.
When the university commemorated the 50th anniversary of his integrating the campus, Meredith declined to participate in the festivities, which included a tribute to him.
"You know, I've got a degree from Ole Miss in political science, history and French," he said in an NPR interview. "I ain't never heard of a Frenchman celebrating Waterloo. They not only kept me out; they kept all of my blood before me out, forever. And I'm supposed to celebrate that?"
He went on to earn a law degree from Columbia University. During the '60s, Meredith became active in the Republican Party and opposed making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a legal holiday. After failing to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, Meredith worked for Sen. Jesse Helms.
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(Photo: Courtesy of The Library of Congress)
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