James Meredith: The First Black Student At The University of Mississippi

The University of Mississippi has a complex history involving race, discrimination, and equality. Even its nickname “Ole Miss,” is a reference to a plantation owner’s wife, and the University changed its mascot from Rebels to the Black Bears.

But the school’s complex history centers around one man who helped shape the campus and evolve the University with his legacy by inspiring past and current students: James Meredith.

In 1962, Meredith became the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi.

Meredith was a transfer student from Jackson State College. He applied and was accepted to the University of Mississippi, but his admission was revoked when the registrar officer learned he was Black. A federal court ordered the school to admit him to the University. When he tried to register on September 20, 1962, the entrance to the office was blocked by then-Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett.

On September 28, 1962, Barnett was found guilty of civil contempt and was ordered to cease his interference with desegregation at the university or face arrest and a fine of $10,000 a day.

Meredith was escorted onto the Ole Miss campus by U.S. Marshals two days later, setting off riots that resulted in the deaths of two students. He returned the next day and began classes. He graduated with a degree in political science.

On June 6, 1966, Meredith was sent to a hospital by a sniper’s bullet. Other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., and Stokely Carmichael, arrived to continue the march on his behalf. Meredith later recovered and rejoined the march days later.

A statue was built on the campus in honor of Meredith.

In 2014, however, Austin Reed Edenfield of Kennesaw, Georgia, and Graeme Phillip Harris of Alpharetta, Georgia, tied a noose and a Confederate flag around the neck of the statue.

The two waived indictment and pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of using a threat of force to intimidate African American students and employees because of their race or color.

Edenfield was sentenced to 12 months’ probation and 50 hours of community service. He was also ordered to obtain substance abuse and mental health treatment. Harris was sentenced to six months in prison.

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