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George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Tracy James
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Monday, May 23, 2005

James Meredith, historic figure in civil rights movement, to visit IU Bloomington

James Meredith

Print-Quality Photo

MAY 23, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- James Meredith, who played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s when he became the first African American admitted to the University of Mississippi, will visit Indiana University Bloomington on May 31-June 1.

Meredith, who recalled his experiences as an Ole Miss student in the book, Three Years in Mississippi (IU Press, 1966), will give a public lecture on June 1 at 11 a.m. in the first-floor auditorium of the IU School of Education, 201 N. Rose St. A reception in the school's lobby will follow the lecture.

Meredith also will speak to students in a class earlier that day taught by civil rights leader Alvin O. Chambliss Jr., now a distinguished visiting professor in the School of Education and the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies at IU.

IU students are planning an evening program on May 31 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education (II) 1955.

Born in Kosciusko, Miss., Meredith enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after high school and served from 1951 to 1960. After leaving the service, he attended Jackson State University, a historically black school, for two years. Twice rejected by the University of Mississippi in 1961, Meredith filed a complaint with the district court, alleging that he had been denied admission because of his color. With the assistance of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and after numerous legal battles and appeals, he won the right to attend the university when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision on Sept. 10, 1962.

His enrollment, opposed by Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett, required federal troops to enforce and led to a violent clash which left two people dead.

The significance of this opposition to the admittance of black students to an all-white institution of higher learning in the South may be found in the U.S. Supreme Court language in Brown v. Board of Education (II) 1955, All Deliberate Speed, a mandate that did not apply to higher education. Meredith was guarded and escorted to class during his entire stay at Ole Miss. He graduated in August of 1963 and went on to earn a law degree from Columbia University in 1968. He also studied at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.

Meredith showed courage in many of his stand-alone efforts and has been accorded significant status in American history. Shortly after the publication of his memoir, Meredith organized the "Walk Against Fear," a march from Memphis, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., to oppose the physical violence faced by African Americans for exercising their right to vote. He was shot by a sniper on the march. While Meredith was hospitalized, the march was continued by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Floyd McKissick, the Rev. James Lawson and other prominent civil rights leaders. It was during this march that the term "Black Power" was born.

Since then, Meredith's career has included runs for a congressional seat as a Republican and briefly serving on the staff of North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms. He is an author of 25 publications, including Mississippi: A Volume of Eleven Books, which was published in 1995. In 1997, he presented his papers to the University of Mississippi where they are housed at the J.D. Williams Library.

EDITORS: Depending on his schedule, Meredith may be available for interviews on the afternoons of May 31 and June 1. Contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or or Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or for assistance.