James Meredith: Long Walk Into History


James Meredith is a name whom many in the UK may not immediately recognise, but whose actions were globally significant.

In 1962, James Meredith became the first black student to be admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi. His admittance exposed the fault lines of race and power in the USA.

A former serviceman in the U.S. Air Force, Meredith applied and was accepted to the University of Mississippi, but his admission was revoked when the registrar learned of his race. A federal court ordered "Ole Miss" to admit him, but when he tried to register, he found the entrance to the office blocked by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. Barnett, a staunch believer in the value of segregation, vociferously opposed his enrollment.

Despite, Barnett being found guilty of civil contempt and ordered to cease his interference with desegregation at the university, what followed was intervention by President Kennedy who ordered 16,000 US troops to ensure that James Meredith was enrolled at 'Ole Miss'.

Meredith’s determination to apply his rights as a citizen and gain an education resulted in violence and rioting which resulted in the death of 2 students and injuries to 200 others. Meredith had to be physically escorted to class by the US marshalls and protected whilst peace was restored.

After his graduation, Meredith continued to work as a civil rights activist. He began a lone civil rights march called March Against Fear in 1966, a protest against voter registration intimidation. During the 225 mile march, which began in Tennessee and ended in Mississippi, Meredith was shot and wounded. Other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, arrived to continue the march on his behalf. It was during the March Against Fear that Carmichael, who was leader of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, first spoke publicly of "Black Power". James Meredith later recovered and rejoined the march he had originated and the now 25,000 strong marchers successfully reached Mississippi.

Fifty years on Meredith's enrollment is regarded as an iconic moment in the U.S. civil rights movement. Writer Sol B. River has long been fascinated by the complexities of Meredith's story and character, and he talks with Meredith at length as he seeks to understand one man's war and his place in history.

Francine Fernandes

Click here to listen : Long Walk Into History by Sol B River

Archived Comments

We've changed to a new commenting system - comments below are preserved for archive purposes

Working out history

As a person recently introduced to OBV, I found this article interesting. I read and listened. A long walk into history - aptly titled, for the walk of 225 miles seems to have started years preceding Mr Meredith. And now, his footprints of social justice certainly should motivate this and future generations in the ongoing war and educational journey. People are destroyed from the lack of knowledge and action. I guess this is the essence of OBV’s vision. From over the seas I applaud you Mr Meredith and Mr River for retelling this historical event. We continue to walk.