50 years ago, JFK forced integration of Ole Miss


James Howard Meredith (born June 25, 1933) is an American civil rights movement figure, a writer, and a political adviser. In 1962, he was the first African American student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi, an event that was a flashpoint in the American civil rights movement. Motivated by President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, Meredith decided to exercise his constitutional rights and apply to the University of Mississippi.[1] His goal was to put pressure on the Kennedy administration to enforce civil rights for African Americans.[1]

Meredith was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi of Choctaw[citation needed] and African American heritage. Thousands of Choctaw had stayed in Mississippi when most of the people left their traditional homeland for Indian Territory in the removal of the 1830s.

After attending local segregated schools and graduating from high school, Meredith enlisted in the United States Air Force. He served honorably from 1951 to 1960.

He attended Jackson State University for two years, then applied to the University of Mississippi which, under the state's legally imposed racial segregation, had traditionally accepted only white students. In Brown v. Board of Education (1955), the US Supreme Court ruled that publicly supported schools had to be desegregated.

OLE MISS (University of Mississippi)

On May 31, 1961, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed suit in the U.S. District Court, alleging that the university had rejected Meredith only because of the color of his skin, as he had a highly successful record. The case went through many hearings and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Meredith had the right to be admitted to the state school Though Meredith was legally entitled to register, the Governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, tried to block him by having the Legislature pass a law that "prohibited any person who was convicted of a state crime from admission to a state school." The law was directed at Meredith, who had been convicted of "false voter registration." Since passage of its 1890 constitution, the state had voter registration rules that effectively disfranchised black voters.

The US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy consulted with Governor Barnett, who agreed to have Meredith enroll in the university. After being barred from entering on September 20, on October 1, 1962, he became the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi. White students and anti-desegregation supporters protested his enrollment by rioting on the Oxford campus.

Robert Kennedy called in 500 U.S. Marshals to take control, who were supported by the 70th Army Engineer Combat Battalion from Ft Campbell, Kentucky. They created a tent camp and kitchen for the US Marshals. To bolster law enforcement, President John F. Kennedy sent in U.S. Army military police from the 503rd Military Police Battalion, and called in troops from the Mississippi Army National Guard and the U.S. Border Patrol as well. In the violent clash, two people died, including the French journalist Paul Guihard on assignment for the London Daily Sketch. He was found dead behind the Lyceum building with a gunshot wound to the back. One hundred-sixty US Marshals, one-third of the group, were injured in the melee, and 40 soldiers and National Guardsmen were wounded. The US government fined Barnett $10,000 and sentenced him to jail for contempt, but the charges were later dismissed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Meredith's entry is 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

Many students harassed Meredith during his two semesters on campus but others accepted him. According to first-person accounts chronicled in Nadine Cohodas's book The Band Played Dixie (1997), students living in Meredith's dorm bounced basketballs on the floor just above his room through all hours of the night. Other students ostracized him: when Meredith walked into the cafeteria for meals, the students eating would turn their backs. If Meredith sat at a table with other students, all of whom were white, the students would immediately get up and go to another table.

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