James Meredith

African-American Activist/Freedom Fighters

“My answer to the racial problem in America is to not deal with it at all. The founding fathers dealt with it when they made the Constitution.”

James Howard Meredith is a Civil Rights Movement figure, writer, political adviser and Air Force veteran. In 1962, he became the first African-American student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi, after the intervention of the federal government, an event that was a flashpoint in the Civil Rights Movement.

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 Meredith

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 Crow's 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.

James Meredith

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.

Quick Facts

Birth Date:
June 25, 1933

  • After graduating from Ole Miss in 1963 with a political science degree, Meredith continued his education. He received his masters in economics from University of Ibadan in Nigeria then a law degree from Columbia University.
  • In an effort to encourage African-Americans to vote and to dispel fears of life in Mississippi, Meredith chose to march, solely, from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi in June 1966. According to His Dream, Our Stories, Meredith was shot in Mississippi on the second day of his 220-mile march. Since Meredith was injured and unable to continue his march, civil rights leaders continued the march to Jackson. Meredith was able to join near the end.
  • According to Biography.com, Meredith became active in the Republican Party in the 1960s. He ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1967. In 1972, he ran for a seat in the Senate but lost to the Democratic incumbent James Eastland. He ultimately served as a domestic adviser to the U.S. senator, Jesse Helms.
  • A statue of Meredith was introduced in 2006 on Ole Miss’ campus. The Christian Science Monitor stated that at the ceremony, Meredith wasn’t given the opportunity to speak. He ended up handing out copies of his speech to the attendees. “I guess they figured they’d better not try to handcuff me, so I got away with [handing the speech out],” he wrote in his 2012 autobiography.
  • Meredith wrote several books including his first book in 1966, Three Years in Mississippi, about his experiences as the first Black student to enter the University of Mississippi. He penned a children’s book in 2010 titled, Will Wadsworth’s Train to Nowhere. His latest book was published in 2012, A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America, which is part memoir and part manifesto.
  • James Meredith
  • James Meredith
  • James Meredith


BIO: Famousafricanamericans.org + Wikipedia.com
PHOTO: ClarionLedger + NPR + Pinterest + RetroKimmer + Spokesman

Last Updated

January 2021

Original Published Date

September 2020

Similar Entries

Ella Baker Civil Rights

Ella Baker

Ella Baker was an African-American civil rights and human rights activist. She was a largely behind-the-scenes organizer whose career spanned more than five decades. In New York City and the South, she worked alongside some of the most noted civil rights leaders of the 20th century.

Read More
Julian Bond Civil Rights

Julian Bond

Julian Bond was an American social activist and leader in the Civil Rights Movement, politician, professor and writer. While a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, during the early 1960s, he helped to establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Read More
Frederick Douglass Literature

Frederick Douglass

Muhammad Ali was an American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist. Nicknamed “The Greatest,” he is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century and as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

Read More
Dick Gregory Arts

Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory was an American comedian, civil rights activist, social critic, writer, conspiracy theorist, entrepreneur, and occasional actor. During the turbulent 1960s, Gregory became a pioneer in stand-up comedy for his “no-holds-barred” sets, in which he mocked bigotry and racism.

Read More
Fannie Lou Hamer Civil Rights

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer was an American voting and women's rights activist, community organizer, and a leader in the civil rights movement. She was the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

Read More
Malcolm X Civil Rights

Malcolm X

Malcolm X was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular figure during the civil rights movement. He is best known for his controversial advocacy for the rights of blacks.

Read More