Sept. 30, 1962
Despite the threats on his life, James Meredith enrolled at the all-white University of Mississippi. It was a day he had been planning for since his days in the Air Force.
While in Japan, he said he encountered “a nonwhite, thousand-year-old civilization where I was treated with respect and equality,” making him realize that “white supremacy and the inferior position of blacks in America was a man-made construct, not a natural construct.”
When a young boy in Japan expressed surprise that Meredith was from the South because he had heard it was “a terrible place for Black people.” Those words made Meredith vow to change Mississippi for the better.
“I knew then that I had to leave the Air Force, come back to Mississippi, and go to war.” And what a war it was, a mob firing guns and lobbing bricks and Molotov cocktails at federal marshals and National Guardsmen attempting to keep the peace. By morning, hundreds were injured, and two men were dead, including a reporter for a French news service named Paul Guihard.
Marshals continued to guard Meredith as he attended classes. He later explained that his battle was never about education. “It was about power,” he told the National Visionary Leadership Project. “It was about citizenship. It was about enjoying everything any other man enjoys. It ain’t never been about education.”
Today, a statue honoring Meredith can be found on the Ole Miss campus.