Photos That Changed History: James Meredith
History Geek pointed out that this year is the fiftieth anniversary of a rather important event in American history. He forwarded me this photo and told me the story behind it. For those of you who weren’t born yet, consider today’s post a look into a past that is, thankfully, very different than the present we enjoy now.
The 1960s was a turbulent era in America. The case Brown vs Board of Education overturned the earlier precedent set in Plessy vs Ferguson and ruled that “separate but equal” segregation in schools was unconstitutional. This case paved the way for desegregation and integration in American schools. Many black families wanted their children to be able to go to the same schools as white children because those schools were better staffed, better equipped, and provided a better education and hope for the future than the failing schools the government had provided for blacks under “separate but equal.” However, discrimination and racism — the two forces that were behind many of these Jim Crow laws — were alive and well. Many fought to keep the schools segregated out of racism. Some fought out of fear that admitting blacks to traditionally white schools would lower the quality of education for everyone. Hand-in-hand with desegregation of schools came the greater Civil Rights Movement and the desegregation of American society.
In a bid to keep blacks out of their schools, traditionally white schools employed several different strategies. They were told time and time again to cease and desist with judging admission solely by skin color and, eventually, they were forced to admit James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. Meredith had been refused admission earlier even after passing the admissions test and having the requirements to attend the university. However, he was black and his admission, even when ordered by the US government, was not without controversy.
Meredith’s purpose in applying for and attending the University of Mississippi was to force the Kennedy administration to stand up for his rights as an American citizen. He went on to receive a degree in Political Science and worked in politics for many years before retiring to Mississippi. Today a statue of him as a young man stands on the University of Mississippi campus noting that he was the first black student to be admitted and to attend the university.
— da Bird