On this day in 1962, James Meredith, having twice been denied admission to the University of Mississippi is escorted onto Ole Miss campus by U.S. Marshals, forcing integration, and causing a race riot in which two men were killed.
It took more than 3,000 federal soldiers to stop the violence.
Meredith is a nine-year Air Force veteran of African American, British Canadian, Scottish Irish, and Choctaw heritage.
He was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s January 20, 1961 inaugural address (yes, the “ask not” speech):
“For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”
So, Meredith sent a letter to Ole Miss the following day requesting an application in order to exercise his constitutional right to apply to the all-white school.
Then, in a letter to Thurgood Marshall, he lays out his motives:
“I am making this move in what I consider the interest of and for the benefit of: (1) my country, (2) my race, (3) my family, and (4) myself. I am familiar with the probable difficulties involved in such a move as I am undertaking and I am fully prepared to pursue it all the way to a degree from the University of Mississippi.”
Also, decidedly understated, he added that he was “familiar with the probable difficulties involved in such a move as I am undertaking and I am fully prepared to pursue it all the way to a degree from the University of Mississippi.”
After all, as he said:
“Nobody handpicked me… I believed, and believe now, that I have a Divine Responsibility to break white supremacy in Mississippi, and getting in Ole Miss was only the start.”
In the prologue to his memoir Mission from God, he wrote:
“I have no fear because I am an American citizen, heir to a sacred covenant of citizenship bestowed on me by George Washington and the Founding Fathers and Mothers of the nation. … And I am on a mission from God.”
Finally, powerfully, James Meredith is quoted as saying:
“My answer to the racial problem in America is to not deal with it at all. The founding fathers dealt with it when they made the Constitution.”