Mississippi is fortunate in having men at its leadership who have vowed to prevent integration of our schools. The very sovereignty of our state is threatened'."
Most whites in the state opposed Meredith's admission, and the Governor of the state vowed not to allow Meredith to enter the school, or segregate other schools. A reporter notes, "The following day Barnett spoke on the air, saying, 'No schools will be integrated while I am your governor.' Calling Meredith's admission 'Our greatest crisis since the War Between the States,' Barnett said that the federal government was 'employing naked and arbitrary power'."
In fact, even after the courts assured Meredith he could enroll; Governor Barnett met him on the steps of the school and denied him admission. Meredith did finally attend the University for a year, and graduated in 1963 with a law degree.
Of course, his year at Ole Miss was not without trials. Initially, the other students ostracized him, and his campus life was surrounded with soldiers and marshals who guarded him throughout his stay on campus. Most of his professors treated him fairly, but rarely conversed or had any dealings with him, even in class. In short, Meredith's time on the campus was not easy. The other students never accepted him, and some of his professors acted as if he did not exist. His happiest times were the weekends spent in Jackson with his family. U.S. Marshals escorted him to Jackson and back each weekend. However, he did meet many black families in the Oxford area (where Ole Miss is located), and did enjoy friendships with many of them. His life on campus was lonely, and he never forgot the feeling of being the only black on campus.
During Meredith's fight to enter Ole Miss, he became more involved in the overall fight for civil rights, as well. In 1966, his first memoir, Three Years in Mississippi was published, and he undertook the Meredith Mississippi March Against Fear from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi. After only two days, someone shot him and left him by the side of the road as dead. The attack so angered other black civil rights groups that they banded together and finished the walk in his honor. Stokely Carmichael, one of the marchers, came up with the term "black power" during the march, and this was the beginning of the term associated with the black struggle to end oppression and prejudice. Thus, many credit Meredith as the father of the movement, although he did not coin the phrase. Meredith rejoined the march for a few days, and has always been an outspoken critic of nonviolence. However, his civil rights activities waned after the march.
Meredith went on to study and teach abroad for several years. He lectures, has taught, and is now the President of the Meredith Institute, Inc., a non-profit organization that teaches Black Americans the importance of language and how to read, write, and speak the English language.
It is interesting to note that Meredith always felt he was a soldier, even during all of his efforts to enroll in Ole Miss. He "grew up" during in the Air Force, and enjoyed the life of a soldier. When he returned to Mississippi in 1960, he felt he was returning to fight another war, the war for freedom and equality for blacks.
In an interview broadcast on CNN, he later says he was not courageous in his fight. He notes, "And the -- so it wasn't about being able to have the courage to do it. I mean, as far as I was concerned, I was dead. Most people were concentrating on dying. I was dead, because I could not live as a full citizen in this country'."
Meredith may not have felt courageous about his actions, but he was a great hero to many blacks throughout America. Because of his determination and courage, he opened up the University of Mississippi to other blacks, and many others schools followed suit. His fight to attend Ole' Miss brought national attention to the plight of blacks living in the South, and helped bring about civil rights changes in 1964 and beyond.
In conclusion, Meredith faced a long and very bitter struggle to enter the University (Ole Miss), because he was black. He subsequently became the first black student in the history of the school, and opened up enrollment to other blacks. (His son graduated from the school in 2002, for example, with a PhD.). Meredith's struggle indicates the great power of one motivated individual to change what seems incapable of changing. He faced an uphill battle but took it on because he knew it was the right thing to do. Future study of this phenomenon can include extensive reading on the Civil Rights Movement, and some of its other heroes, including Martin Luther King, Jr. And Malcolm X, two men who made a difference in the Movement and gave their lives because of it.
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