Thursday, March 5, 2009
Meredith first black student at Ole Miss
The Reverend Andrew Cheairs and the St. Paul Baptist Church hosted the third annual Marshall County Black History Banquet.
Program planners saw this as an appropriate end to February, traditionally called “Black History Month.” The guest speaker for the banquet was James Meredith, the first black to attend the University of Mississippi.
Meredith was born in Kosciusko of native American (Choctaw) and black American heritage. He enlisted in the United States Air Force right out of high school and served from 1951 to 1960. He then attended Jackson State College for two years. He applied to the University of Mississippi, but was denied twice.
On October 1, 1962, he became the first black student at the University of Mississippi, after being barred from entering on September 20. His enrollment, virulently opposed by segregationist Governor Ross Barnett, sparked riots on the Oxford campus, which required federal troops and U.S. Marshals, who were sent by President John F. Kennedy.
The riots led to a violent clash which left two people dead, including French journalist Paul Guihard, on assignment for the London Daily Sketch, who was found behind a dormitory block with a gunshot wound to the back. Forty-eight soldiers were injured and 28 U.S. Marshals were wounded by gunfire.
Barnett was fined $10,000 and sentenced to jail for contempt, but the charges were later dismissed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bob Dylan sang about the incident in his song “Oxford Town.” Meredith’s actions are regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in the United States. He graduated on August 18, 1963 with a degree in political science.
Meredith continued his education at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. He received an LL.B (law degree) from Columbia University in 1968. Meredith ceased being a civil rights activist in the late 1960s and found employment as a stockbroker.
He led a civil rights march, the March Against Fear from Memphis, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., in 1966 and was wounded by sniper Aubrey James Norvell on June 6. The photograph of Meredith after being shot won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in 1967. J.B. Lenoir sings about this incident in the song “Shot on James Meredith.”
As an author, Meredith wrote a memoir of his days at the University of Mississippi entitled “Three Years in Mississippi,” published by the Indiana University Press in 1966, and he also self-published several books. He was an active Republican and served for several years as a domestic advisor on the staff of United States Senator Jesse Helms.
Faced with harsh criticism from the civil rights community, Meredith said that he wrote every member of the Senate and House offering his services to them in order to gain access to the Library of Congress, and that only Helms replied.
Meredith made several attempts to be elected to Congress as a Republican.
Also Saturday night, awards in the areas of education and social action were presented to Knowledge Gipson, Early Taylor, Amanda Malone, Gussie Mae Hughes, Linda Luce, H.B. Appleton and Rep. Kelvin Buck.
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