James Meredith, the black man who 50 years ago inflamed white Mississippi by quietly demanding admission to the state’s segregated flagship university, does not plan to participate this week in the university’s commemoration of his history-making enrollment.
The University of Mississippi says Meredith, now 79 and living in Jackson, has been invited to take part in events to mark the anniversary, but Meredith says he doesn’t see the point.
“I ain’t never heard of the Germans celebrating the invasion of Normandy, or the bombing and destruction of Berlin. I ain’t never heard of the Spanish celebrating the destruction of the Armada.”
Asked to clarify, Meredith said: “Did you find anything 50 years ago that I should be celebrating?”
Mississippi’s segregationist governor in 1962, Ross Barnett, denounced the federal government as “evil and illegal forces of tyranny” for ordering Ole Miss to enroll Meredith, a 29-year-old Air Force veteran.
In the face of state defiance, President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, deployed more than 3,000 soldiers and 500 law enforcement officers to Oxford. Two white men were killed and more than 200 people were injured, including 160 U.S. marshals, in the ensuing riot.
Meredith is now memorialized by a bronze statue on campus, which he calls “hideous” and wants destroyed.
Meredith says the monument glosses over the magnitude of Mississippi’s resistance to his exercise of what should have been recognized as an obvious human right.