Enterprise

Mac Gordon: James Meredith has won his war

At 89 and the recipient of deserved tributes from the University of Mississippi, which he joined, the “war” of James Howard Meredith could finally be over.

Meredith became the first black student at Ole Miss on October 1, 1962.

In her 1966 book, “Three Years In Mississippi,” Meredith candidly points out at the beginning of the manuscript and several times later that “I returned to my home country to fight a war,” adding that he “had spent every year of my adult life and the three years before my twenty-first birthday in the armed forces; in other words, I grew up in the army.

He wrote this to make it clear that he was ready for a war, a fight, in his attempt to enter Ole Miss.

“It must also be remembered that I served as a soldier and not as a black soldier, although I have always been aware of my personal heritage,” he wrote. “A soldier must at all times be ready, without hesitation or question, to die for his country and his cause.”

His “war” is firmly rooted in history — in documented words and videos that cannot be hidden.

Meredith clarified to Ole Miss officials that he was not “handpicked” to be the first black student there, as many have suggested.

“I believed, and I now believe, that I have a divine responsibility…I know the likely difficulties of such a move that I am undertaking and I am fully prepared to pursue it until a successful outcome is obtained. degree from the University of Mississippi.,” he wrote.

Admittedly, “difficulties” have arisen. Between the time Meredith sent in his initial Ole Miss application on January 21, 1961, and the time he graduated with a political science degree on August 18, 1963, a so-called “Second Civil War” broke out in the form of riots. on the campus. After consultation with United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Governor Ross Barnett was forced to admit Meredith and promised to maintain order.

Barnett couldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t have.

The riots broke out on September 29, 1962, among college students, some non-students, and more than 200 federal agents. Local reserve units were nationalized.

By the time the riots ended on the day of Meredith’s enlistment, two civilians had died in the conflict. Various university buildings were damaged by gunfire and stones and bricks thrown by the rioters.

James Howard Meredith’s “war” was waged against what he described in his book as “discrimination, oppression, unequal application of the law and, above all, against ‘white supremacy’ and all its demonstrations”.

Prior to entering Ole Miss, Meredith graduated from the then Jackson State College. Representing what is now Jackson State University, the JSU president told the Clarion-Ledger in a September 29 article that “what Meredith has done is give students the freedom to choose where they attend school to get an education and live their dreams. (Meredith) made this possible at a time when it was frowned upon.

Meredith was not the first black student at formerly all-white colleges and universities in the South. But his inscription was the most significant.

There was no such rancor at Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 1, when black and white students and university officials united during the Rebels’ football game against Kentucky and honored Meredith’s bravery and determination. on this campus 60 years ago. The event properly captured national attention.

Wearing an Ole Miss baseball cap, he smiled and waved to the crowd as he accepted a number 62 framed Ole Miss football jersey, depicting the year 1962.

Fans responded.

It seemed that James H. Meredith’s war was largely over.

Mac Gordon is originally from McComb. He’s a retired journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected]