Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 James Howard Meredith
James Howard Meredith "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– )
Law 1968

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.

Meredith received a 2,000-dollar scholarship to Columbia Law School and began studies there in September 1965. Still lamenting the lack of equal educational opportunities for African Americans, he told the New York Times that "the day must come when the average Negro 'C' student will have the same chance as the average white 'C' student." It was while a Columbia student that he published his book, Three Years in Mississippi (1966), which recounted his experience at Ole Miss and the lengthy effort to get there. Meredith also became an entrepreneur while at Columbia, purchasing an apartment building and a business in the Bronx. "My real service," he said, "will be to make my people financially knowledgeable, if not secure." He graduated in 1968 but did not pursue a career as a lawyer.


Civil-rights litigator.


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