"Nothing could be more insulting to me than the concept of civil rights. It means perpetual second-class citizenship for me and my kind."
James Howard Meredith (1933– )
In the fall of 1962, 29-year old Air Force veteran James Meredith provided a defining moment in the American civil-rights movement when he enrolled as the first African American student at the University of Mississippi—sparking a riot that left two dead and dozens injured. After graduating a year later, he continued to champion the rights of African Americans, and in 1966 was shot and wounded while leading a march from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi. Now joined by Martin Luther King Jr., and others, Meredith resumed a few days later, concluding the march with a 15,000-person rally at the state capitol in Jackson. Despite this episode, the always individualistic Meredith never embraced, nor was he fully embraced by, the established civil-rights leadership of the time. He went on to mount unsuccessful campaigns for both Congress and the Jackson mayoralty, and in 1989 joined the staff of U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, an archconservative from North Carolina who had once opposed "forced integration." Honored by "Ole Miss" on the fortieth anniversary of his registration, Meredith is currently a businessman in Jackson.