James Meredith

James Meredith

James Meredith is a 20th century eminent American Civil Rights Movement figure. He was involved in political advisory committee and also wrote about the social inequality issues. Besides, he was a war veteran and was the first black to be admitted in an all-white university.

James Howard Meredith was born on June 25, 1933 in Kosciusko, Mississippi to Moses Meredith and Roxie. He descended from a cultural diverse family having British Canadian, Choctaw, Scots and African-American heritage. Mississippi at that time was under Jim Crows tyrant rule and therefore all the schools in his territory were segregated as “white” and “colored”. Meredith went to a segregated local high school and after graduation he joined United States Air Force. He served in the air force for nine years. Upon his return, he went on to attend Jackson State University and earned good grades. Afterwards, he applied to the state-funded University of Mississippi which only accepted white students. However, he insisted on having equal civil rights.

His application was rejected twice but he didn’t give up. In his application, Meredith wrote he needed admission for his country, race, family, and himself and that he intend to pursue the degree all the way. Leader of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Medgar Evers assisted James Meredith on the matter. He filed a lawsuit against the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi with the support from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The lawsuit claimed the cause of rejection was not the unsatisfactory grades because he had a highly successful academic record, but the reason was solely based on his colour. After a dozens of hearings, the case finally went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in his favor, giving him the right to apply to any segregated university and be admitted.

However, Meredith’s struggle for justice was not over yet. Democratic Governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett felt being cheated of his right to discriminate and mistreat the blacks. Thus he had the Legislature pass a law that “prohibited any person who was convicted of a state crime from admission to a state school.” The law specifically targeted Meredith to have his registration revoked because he had been once convicted of false registration. It did not end here, later two state courts decreed barring Meredith’s registration. Nonetheless, it all turned around when the Governor kept up his refusal and found in contempt of court and was arrested and heavily fined. Another Lieutenant Governor Johnson was found in the same position and was given the same treatment.

President Kennedy proclaimed that any personnel involved in obstruction of law will be brought to justice with use of military if necessary. Subsequently, Ross Barnett received several calls from the US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy upon the subject of James Meredith’s admission. He eventually gave in and reluctantly agreed to let Meredith be admitted at the University of Mississippi. In 1962, Meredith became the first African-American to have been enrolled in an all-white university. The riots broke out in the vicinity protesting against his enrollment and as a result a French journalist got caught up and was killed. Inside the campus, things were still difficult for him as he was mostly bullied and harassed by white students.

Upon completing his degree, he went to Nigeria and studied political science there. When he returned, he won Columbia University scholarship and studied law. Henceforth he invested all his energy focusing on blacks’ civil rights and championing them.

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