Happy 86th birthday to James Meredith. A living American hero whose story should be known.
He grew up in Mississippi, only allowed to go to all-black schools. When he graduated, he joined the Air Force and served in it from 1951-1960.
This in itself fascinates me. How could a person volunteer to fight and possibly die for a country that forced him to go to a lesser school because of the color of their skin? They’d have to be a much better man than I.
When he was done in the Air Force, he wanted to get a college degree. He enrolled in an all black college, Jackson State. He was inspired by President Kennedy’s inaugural address though, and wanted to put pressure on Kennedy to support civil rights. He decided to enroll in the University of Mississippi.
The Governor of Mississippi immediately made a statement, “No negro will be allowed to attend the University of Mississippi under my watch.” The State Legislature passed a law stating that no one accused of a crime of “moral turpitude” would be allowed in the University. This was intended specifically for Meredith.
He tried to vote the year before.
When Meredith arrived at the University, he was met by thousands of protestors. President Kennedy had already sent 500 federal marshals to protect him, but it wasn’t enough to deter the protestors. Rioting ensued. Over 100 marshals were injured by thrown objects and bullets. Two of them died. President Kennedy had to bring in 3000 more federal soldiers to restore order.
With the help of the Federal Government, Meredith forced his way in.
He was the subject of constant harassment from other students. Most students literally turned their backs whenever they saw him. Students refused to sit near him in class. They would sign up for shifts to bounce a basketball in the dorm room above Meredith’s all night so he couldn’t sleep.
He graduated in 1963 with a degree in Poltical science. He would go on to get a law degree from Columbia.
In 1966, he wanted to have his own “March against fear.” He set out to march by himself from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson Mississippi to promote voter registration amongst African Americans.
On the second day, he was shot in the back and leg by a sniper. That sniper would only serve 18 months in prison.
That is right…..18 months.
The beautiful thing: Over 15,000 showed up to take his place in the march. When he recovered, he rejoined them. As a result of his march, over 4,000 African Americans in Mississippi registered to vote.
James Meredith signed up to fight for this country on foreign shores. Unfortunately, his most important battle would be inside it.
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