Black in the Day…James Meredith and his long walk into history

AUGUST 18:

On this date in 1963, the first Black person graduated from the University of Mississippi.

James Meredith received his bachelor’s degree from the (then) 115-year-old academic institution. His initial attempt to attend the school brought on race riots on their Oxford campus that left two people dead and Federal troops were stationed on the campus to protect him until he graduated.

Who Is James Meredith?

James Meredith is an American civil rights activist, writer and Air Force veteran.  A Mississippi-native, Meredith joined the military after high school and attended Jackson State University before becoming the first African American student to attend the University of Mississippi in 1962. After he graduated, Meredith earned a law degree and became involved in politics.

Meredith continued to balance education and activism throughout the rest of the decade, attending the University of Ibadan in Nigeria (1964–65) and Columbia University (1966–68). In June 1966 he began a solitary protest march, which he called the March Against Fear. During the 225 mile march, which began in Tennessee and ended in Mississippi, Meredith was shot and wounded. Other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, arrived to continue the march on his behalf. It was during the March Against Fear that Carmichael, who was leader of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, first spoke publicly of “Black Power”. James Meredith later recovered and rejoined the march he had originated and the now 25,000 strong marchers successfully reached Mississippi.

In recent years, Meredith has continued to be active in civil rights and education issues, particularly through his nonprofit organization, the Meredith Institute. He has also authored several books, including Three Years in Mississippi(1966), the children’s book Will Wadsworth’s Train to Nowhere (2010) and the memoir A Mission from God (2012).

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