On this day in 1962, James H. Meredith was denied admission to the University of Mississippi by Governor Barnett.
Born in Mississippi on June 25, 1933, Meredith grew up on a farm, far away from the intense racism of the time. His first experience with racism occurred while riding on a train with his brother. He was ordered to give up hiss eat and move to the black section of the train, where he was forced to stand.
It was then that Meredith devoted his life to fighting for the equal treatment of African Americans. After graduating high school, he spent nine years in the United States Air Force and later enrolled in Jackson State College, which was an all-black school.
In 1961, he applied to the University of Mississippi, an all-white institution, and was initially accepted. However, his admission was later withdrawn when school officials discovered his race. Meredith filed a suit against them, alleging discrimination. The case, Brown v. Board of Education, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court – who ruled in his favor – and is remembered today as one of the most significant cases in history.
Rioting erupted when Meredith arrived at the university to schedule his classes. White protestors had blocked the entrance, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent 500 U.S. Marshals to the scene. In addition, military police, troops from the Mississippi National Guard, and officials from the U.S. Border Patrol arrived. Once the rioting was under control, James Meredith officially became the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.
He graduated with a degree in political science and wrote an account of his experience, which was titled Three Years in Mississippi. It was published in 1966.
Meredith went on to receive a master’s degree from the University of Ibandan in Nigeria, and later a law degree from Columbia University in 1968.