The Vault

James Meredith, Determined to Enroll at Ole Miss, Declares His Purpose in a 1961 Letter

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In this 1961 letter to the Justice Department, James Meredith introduced himself, reported his intention to enroll at the University of Mississippi, and asked for federal help in achieving this goal. In his prose, the 29-year-old black Air Force veteran, husband, and father, who already had several years of college credits under his belt, displays a calm resolve. Meredith saw his attempt at enrollment as a conscious action of civil rights protest, and was ready for a fight.

Meredith had applied for admission for the spring semester in January of that year, asking for a quick ruling so that he could matriculate in time for the start of classes in February. Not knowing his race, officials in the admissions office took a friendly tone, inviting his application. In turning in his materials, Meredith noted that he was an “American-Mississippi-Negro citizen,” and asked that the matter be handled “in a manner that will be complimentary to the University and to the State of Mississippi.”

Twenty-one months of delaying tactics followed. Meredith had assistance from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and the support of the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, but state-level officials, including Governor Ross Barnett, threw up roadblocks, and the case moved slowly through the courts.

Assisted by hundreds of federal law enforcement officials, and enduring a series of violent confrontations with angry white students, Meredith finally began attending classes at the University on Oct. 1, 1962. He majored in political science and graduated in August 1963.

National Archives. 

National Archives.