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Civil Rights Icon Rejects Anniversary of University Integration

James Meredith, first African-American to attend University of Mississippi, refuses to partake in commemoration.

Common Dreams staff

Meredith sits alone on his first day of classes at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Ed Meeks. The Meek School of Journalism and New Media at The University of Mississippi

As the University of Mississippi celebrates the 50th anniversary of its integration, James Meredith—the man who risked life and limb to be the first African-American to attend the school—refuses to partake in the commemoration.

Meredith, now 79 and living in Jackson, Miss, always considered himself a soldier and "Ole Miss" his battlefield. As he writes in his new book, "A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America," co-authored with historian William Doyle: "I chose as my target the University of Mississippi, which in 1960 was the holiest temple of white supremacy in America, next to the U.S. Capitol and the White House, both of which were under the control of segregationists and their collaborators."

Of the anniversary, Meredith told the Associated Press, "I ain't never heard of the French celebrating Waterloo. I ain't never heard of the German's celebrating the invasion of Normandy, or…the bombing and destruction of Berlin. I ain't never heard of the Spanish celebrating the destruction of the Armada."

AP reports, "The university says Meredith has been invited to take part in events to mark the anniversary, including a walk that student leaders will take Monday to retrace his first day on campus."

Meredith's relationship with the University has been fraught over the years. In 2006, the school erected a bronze statue of Meredith on campus but denied him a chance to speak at the dedication ceremony. In a recent interview with Mississippi's Channel 12 News, Meredith said, "I've been to the last football game, probably going to the next football game. But I've never seen the statue since the day it's been put up there." In his new book he calls for it to be destroyed. 

In what has often been declared "the last battle of the civil war," Meredith's introduction to the University was met with resistance and extreme hostility. On September 20, 1962 he was physically barred from entering by then-Governor Ross Barnett. Though the Governor relented, on September 30 the Kennedy administration deployed more than 3000 soldiers and more than 500 law enforcement officers to the campus to quell the mob that had formed to prevent Meredith for enrolling. The ensuing riot killed two men, including French journalist Paul Guihard, and injured over a hundred others. Meredith graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1963 with a degree in political science.  

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