James Meredith was born on June 25, 1933. He was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi to Moses and Roxie Meredith. Moses Meredith was not only one of the only African Americans who owned a farm, but also was registered to vote. He made a strong effort to shelter James and his nine brothers and sisters from racism in the surrounding community.
Meredith spent nine years in the United States Air Force before enrolling in Jackson State College, an all black school, in Mississippi. In 1961 he applied to the all-white school of the University of Mississippi, and he was initially accepted, but then withdrawn when they discovered his race. Although the courts ruled against him, because of the famous Brown Vs. Board of Education case the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor.
Despite his excellent grades, James was denied admission twice before finally gaining acceptance to the University of Mississippi in 1962. Governor Ross Barnett had adamantly opposed Meredith's admission to the school and personally traveled there to prevent Meredith from registering for classes. When Meredith arrived to register for classes on September 20, 1962, he found the entrance blocked. Rioting erupted and Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent 500 U.S. Marshals to the scene. Additionally, President John F. Kennedy sent military police troops from the U.S. Border Patrol to keep the peace.
On October 1, 1962, Meredith finally gained entrance to the university, where his presence sparked riots all over the campus. In all, 5,000 federal troops and 500 U.S. marshals were needed to quell the violence which left two people dead and hundreds injured.
James Meredith entering the University of Mississippi.
Many students treated Meredith poorly during the two semesters he was at the university. Although some accepted his presence and he made friends, some students living in the room above him would bounce basketballs on the floor all night to disturb him. When Meredith would go into the cafeteria, students would turn their backs to him. If he sat at a table with other students, who were all white, they would get up and move to another table. Despite being treated poorly, he graduated with a degree in political science an August 18, 1963. He wrote about his experience, titled Three Years in Mississippi, which was published in 1966.
"I considered myself engaged in a war since day one. And my objective was to force the Federal government- the Kennedy administration at that time- into a position where they would have to use the United States Military force to enforce my rights as a citizen." (Meredith)
Meredith was shot by a sniper shortly after the beginning a lone civil rights march through the South. Known as the "March Against Fear," Meredith had been walking from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi, in an attempt to encourage voter registration in African Americans in the South. Other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., and Stokely Carmichael arrived to continue the march on his behalf.
While marching in the Meredith Mississippi March, participants were tear-gassed by the Mississippi Highway Patrol near the town of Canton. After Meredith was shot, participants kept marching in his name. On June 26 the marchers successfully reached Jackson, Mississippi.
In 1963, Meredith graduated with a degree in political science. He wrote about his experience, titled Three Years in Mississippi, which was published in 1966.