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Meredith, James H.

Meredith, James H.

June 25, 1933


Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, civil rights activist James Howard Meredith became the central figure in two major events of the civil rights movement. He had studied at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, when in September 1962 he sought to enroll in the University of Mississippi to complete his bachelor's degree. The state university system was segregated, and although a court order confirmed Meredith's right to enter the school, Mississippi governor Ross Barnett led the opposition and personally stood in the doorway of the registrar's office to block Meredith's enrollment. In response, the Kennedy administration dispatched federal marshals to escort Meredith to classes. To quell the subsequent rioting, U.S. troops policed the campus, where they remained until Meredith graduated in 1963.

During the next year, Meredith studied at Ibadan University in Nigeria, and on his return to the United States he began taking courses for a law degree at Columbia University. In the summer of 1966 Meredith announced he would set out on a sixteen-day "walk against fear," which would take him from Memphis to the Mississippi state capital in Jackson. He sought both to spur African-American voter registration for the upcoming primary election and to show that blacks could overcome the white violence that had so long stifled aspirations.

On the second day of the hike, an assailant shot Meredith with two shotgun blasts. His wounds were not serious, but the attack sparked great outrage, and the major civil rights organizations carried on a march to Jackson from the place where Meredith had been shot. This procession was marked by Stokely Carmichael's call for black power and a resulting rift between the moderate and militant wings of the movement. Meredith left the hospital after several days and was able to join the marchers before they reached Jackson.

Later in 1966 Meredith published Three Years in Mississippi and lectured on racial justice. Returning to law school, Meredith received his degree from Columbia University in 1968. That same year he ran unsuccessfully for Adam Clayton Powell Jr.'s Harlem seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, then returned to Mississippi, where he became involved in several business ventures. In 1984 and 1985 he taught a course on blacks and the law at the University of Mississippi. From 1989 to 1991 Meredith worked for North Carolina senator Jesse Helms, an archconservative, as domestic policy adviser.

In 1995 Meredith published Mississippi: A Volume of Eleven Books. Meredith's papers are collected at the University of Mississippi.

See also Carmichael, Stokely; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Voting Rights Act of 1965

Bibliography

Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: Morrow, 1986.

Peake, Thomas R. Keeping the Dream Alive: A History of the Nineteen-Eighties. New York: P. Lang, 1987.

steven j. leslie (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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