James Meredith remains a controversial figure. Arguably a central person in the Civil Rights Movement, the now-82-year-old military veteran repeatedly disavowed his affiliation with the movement and earned the ire of core movement leaders in the process. To this day, Meredith insists that he was only asserting his equal rights for education under United States law when he fought to attend the University of Mississippi.
Nonetheless, Meredith’s centrality to the Civil Rights Movement’s core concern of desegregation in education cannot be dismissed. On this day in 1962, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Meredith had the right to attend the University of Mississippi and ordered Ole Miss to admit him. This was a key moment in a lengthy legal battle—supported by the precedent set by Brown v. Board of Education and ultimately upheld by the nation’s Supreme Court—in which Meredith was advised by Medgar Evers.
Meredith’s tribulations did not end there, of course. His admission, in part affected by secret deals between segregationist Mississippi governor Ross Barnett and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was accompanied by the deployment of 500 U.S. Marshals. This didn’t stop irate white segregationists from rioting, however, and a night of violence on September 29 ended with two men shot and hundreds injured. Eventually, Meredith was admitted, and despite two semesters worth of racist harrassment, he graduated in 1963.
Meredith paved the way for more African Americans to attend Southern state universities like Ole Miss. For this reason, among others, the anniversary of the court decision ordering the university to admit him is worth of this #ThrowbackThursday.