Never underestimate the power of a person who considers his efforts in the interest of and for the benefit of: (1) my country, (2) my race, (3) my family, and (4) myself”.
James Meredith sent the following letter dated January 31, 1961, with his completed application, to Mr. Robert B. Ellis, the Registrar of the then all-white state-funded University of Mississippi. Meredith had completed two years, with good grades, at the historically black university Jackson State University. He had also served in the United States Air Force from 1951-1960. Meredith was denied admission to Mississippi based on race, despite his credentials, references and the 1954 US Supreme Court ruling in Brown v Board of Education that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. However, 20 months later, on October 1, 1962, Meredith enrolled in the University of Mississippi and became the first black student to attend the state-funded institution.
Court Rulings and Federal Government Intervention
To say Meredith’s enrollment was met with resistance is an understatement. In fact, he anticipated it as you can see from his January 29, 1961 letter to Thurgood Marshall, Founder and first Director-Counsel of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and “first African American elevated to U.S. Supreme Court (1967-1991)”. | You can read Meredith’s letter to Thurgood Marshall and additional letters between Meredith and Ellis, as well as Meredith’s letter to the United States Justice Department here.
Meredith “was allowed to” register at Mississippi only after court battles that went all the way to the US Supreme Court and through federal intervention.
The US Supreme Court supported the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit which ruled that Meredith had the right to be admitted to Mississippi. During this fight, Meredith was advised by Medgar Evers, head of Mississippi chapter of the NAACP and backed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Even though the courts were on his side, Meredith still had to fight against the racist cultural of Mississippi lead by Governor Ross Barnett. “In a statewide television broadcast, Barnett stated, ‘[Mississippi] will not surrender to the evil and illegal forces of tyranny … [and] no school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your governor.’”
It wasn’t until President Kennedy sent in US Deputy Marshals that Meredith was able to register. Meredith “was registered at the school after a violent confrontation between students and Deputies. One hundred and sixty Deputies were injured – 28 by gunfire.” Meredith was protected around the clock by Deputy Marshals for the next year “going everywhere he went on campus, enduring the same taunts and jibes, the same heckling, the same bombardment of cherry bombs, water balloons, and trash, as Meredith did. They made sure that Meredith could attend the school of his choice.”
James Meredith devoted his efforts against racism despite threats against his life and the lives of his supporters. His success at breaking the racial barrier to education at the University of Mississippi “is viewed by many as one of the most important events in civil rights history”.
And…remember, Feed Your Good Dog so your good dog always wins!