Ole Miss pays tribute to James Meredith 60 years after his integration

University of Mississippi pays tribute to James Meredith, 89, 60 years after white protesters erupted in violence as he became the first black student to enroll in what was then a bastion of segregation in the Deep South.

As it has done on other 10-year integration anniversaries, the university organizes celebrations and academic events. Meredith was honored at the Ole Miss-Kentucky football game on Saturday, two days after she witnessed rebel training talk to players.

“He came and revolutionized our way of thinking. He came to open up our closed society,” Donald Cole, who retired in 2018 as the university’s deputy provost and multicultural affairs officer, said at a celebration Wednesday night.

The enigmatic Meredith, who lives in Jackson, has long resisted the label of civil rights leader, as if civil rights were separate from other human rights. He says his efforts to get into Ole Miss were his own battle for white supremacy.

The fact that Meredith was honored at the Ole Miss-Kentucky game was an ironic echo of history.

Two days before Meredith checked into the Oxford campus in 1962, anti-racist Governor Ross Barnett drove a white crowd into a frenzy at a football stadium in Jackson. Ole Miss fans waved Confederate flags in support of their rebels against the Kentucky Wildcats – and to challenge any trend towards racial integration.

“I love Mississippi,” Barnett said. “I love his people! Our customs! I love and respect our heritage!

The following evening, Barnett quietly struck a deal with US Atty. General Robert Kennedy allows Meredith to enter the oldest public university in Mississippi. Meredith already had a federal court order.

White crowds of students and foreigners erupted as he arrived on the leafy campus with the protection of more than 500 federal law enforcement officers. The attorney general’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, deployed National Guard troops to quell the violence, and Meredith signed up Oct. 1.

During the event on Wednesday at the university, Meredith told an audience, “In my opinion, this is the best day I have ever had. But there is a little more truth. The party is good. I don’t think there is anyone in this house or in the state of Mississippi who thinks the problem has been solved.

Meredith has said for the past few years that he was on a mission from God to persuade people to keep the Ten Commandments. He said Wednesday he sees a special role for black women in leading the way in restoring moral order to American society.

“There’s nothing in Mississippi that God, Jesus Christ and black women can’t fix,” Meredith said.

Meredith grew up in segregated Mississippi before graduating from high school in Florida. He served in the Air Force and attended Jackson State College, a historically black school in the state capital, before suing for admission to Ole Miss.

A local resident and a French journalist were killed in the violence during Meredith’s registration. More than 200 officers and soldiers were injured and 200 people were arrested.

Federal marshals provided Meredith with round-the-clock protection until he graduated with a political science degree in 1963. Meredith said Wednesday that most of his knowledge of what was happening on campus came from marshals .

“Most of them were scared to death of Mississippi people with rifles and shotguns,” he said.

Director of the United States Marshals Service Ronald L. Davis named Meredith an honorary deputy marshal at Wednesday’s ceremony. Davis, who is black, said Meredith brought widespread change to American society.

“You chose a path that was not taken – one with a lot of resistance, one with fear, threats and violence, and you went there anyway,” Davis said.

The University of Mississippi had approximately 21,850 students across all of its campuses in the fall 2021 semester, with approximately 12.7% black enrollment. About 38% of Mississippi residents are black.

Ethel Scurlock, the university’s first black honors college dean, said during the commencement speech on Wednesday that she was not yet born when Meredith joined Ole Miss in 1962 or when he was shot soon after. having launched his march against fear in 1966.

“But Mr. Meredith, I’m here today,” Scurlock said. “I am the unborn baby you were ready to go to war for.”

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