James Meredith: Chaos Ensues in a Violent Riot at Ole Miss

Written by Tinaya Sallie

In September of 1962, a black man by the name of James Meredith tried to enroll in the University of Mississippi. This resulted in a riot on the campus of Ole Miss that ultimately left two people dead, and hundreds of others wounded and resulted in numerous arrests. Nearly 31,000 National Guardsmen along with other federal forces were sent out to the campus by Robert F. Kennedy, the Attorney General, to restore order to the ensuing chaos.

From 1960 to 1962, James Meredith was attending an all-black college in Mississippi, Jackson State College. He repeatedly applied to the University of Mississippi during this timeframe but was never afforded admission to the school. In 1961, he filed a lawsuit against Ole Miss for racial discrimination. He was aided by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples) in his endeavor, and in September of the following year, the United States Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

Upon Meredith’s arrival on the University campus in Oxford, Mississippi under the protection of U.S. marshals and other federal forces, more than 2,000 white students and other protesters gathered together and formed an enormous mob in an effort to try and block Meredith from entering the school. Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy was forced to send in roughly 31,000 federal troops to put a stop to the madness.

Despite the violent resistance he had faced, Meredith went on to become the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi. He registered at Ole Miss on October 1st, 1962. Meredith graduated in the following year, and in 1966, he even wrote a memoir about everything he experienced called “Three Years in Mississippi.”

Meredith continued in his endeavor of activism in Nigeria, as a student at the University of Ibadan, and then later at Columbia University. In June of 1966, he solitarily made a march of protest called the “March Against Fear.” While he was marching from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi, he was shot by a sniper. Meredith survived the assassination attempt, however, and civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. Floyd McKissick and Stokely Carmichael continued his march in his name until his recovery, when he rejoined them.

After his March Against Fear, Meredith left the civil rights movement and became a stockbroker. In 1968, he entered Columbia University law school, and in 1972, he ran as a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, unsuccessfully.


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Tinaya Sallie

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