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Fifty-eight years ago today, riots erupted in the South over the enrollment of a Black student at the University of Mississippi, or “Ole Miss.”
In 1962, James Meredith, a former serviceman in the U.S. Air Force, applied to the University of Mississippi. He became the first African American student to be accepted into the university, but his admission was revoked after the university found out about his race. On June 26, 1962, a federal court ordered the university to admit Meredith. Circuit Judge John Minor wrote, “[F]rom the moment the defendants discovered Meredith was a Negro they engaged in a carefully calculated campaign of delay, harassment, and masterly inactivity.”
When Meredith tried to register again at the university on September 20, 1962, then-Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett blocked off the entrance to the office. Eight days later, Barnett was found guilty of civil contempt and was ordered to stop interfering with desegregation at the university. During an Ole Miss football game on September 29, Barnett encouraged students to block Meredith’s entry into the university.
On September 30, 1962, in Oxford, Mississippi, segregationists, locals and students protested against Meredith’s enrollment. The crowd was led by former Army Major General Edwin Walker, a known racist, and the group turned violent after nightfall. President John F. Kennedy decided to bring in the Mississippi National Guard and Army troops from Memphis, Tennessee, to stop the protests.
During the protests, two people died and another 300 people were injured. Meredith, who was under federal protection during the time of the protests, was able to finally enter his first class at Ole Miss on October 1. He became the first Black graduate from the university in 1963.
The North Star has created a video to reflect on this important day in history, narrated by TNS staff writer Branden Janese.