James Meredith was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on 25th June, 1933. While attending Jackson State College (1960-62) Meredith attempted to become the first African American to gain admission to the University of Mississippi.
Twice rejected in 1961, Meredith filed a complaint with the district court on 31st May 1961. Meredith's allegations that he been denied admission because of his colour was rejected by the district court. However, on appeal, the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court reversed this ruling. By a 2 to 1 decision the judges decided that Meredith had indeed been refused admission solely because of his race and that Mississippi was maintaining a policy of educational segregation.
Meredith's admission to the University of Mississippi was opposed by state officials and students and the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, decided to send federal marshals to protect Meredith from threats of being lynched. During riots that followed Kennedy's decision, 160 marshals were wounded (28 by gunfire) and two bystanders were killed.
Despite this opposition, Meredith continued to study at the University of Mississippi and successfully graduated in 1964. Meredith's account of this experience at the university, Three Years in Mississippi was published in 1966.
On 5th June, 1966, Meredith started a solitary March Against Fear from Memphis to Jackson, to protest against racism. Soon after starting his march he was shot by sniper. When they heard the news, other civil rights campaigners, including Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Floyd McKissick, decided to continue the march in Meredith's name.
When the marchers got to Greenwood, Mississippi, Stokely Carmichael made his famous Black Power speech. Carmichael called for "black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, and to build a sense of community". He also advocated that African Americans should form and lead their own organizations and urged a complete rejection of the values of American society.
After hospital treatment Meredith rejoined the March Against Fear on 25th June, 1966. The following day the marchers arrived in Jackson, Mississippi. Once again the civil rights movement had shown that it would not give in to white racism.
After his time at the University of Mississippi, Meredith continued his education at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria (1964-65) and at Columbia University (1966-68). Meredith ceased 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.
The Strange Case of James Meredith
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