A civil rights icon and a starstruck reporter

Posted by Christina Steube on March 8, 2013 

 

A bronze statue of James Meredith stands on the Ole Miss campus behind the Lyceum, the central administration building, and the J.D. Williams library.

Meredith stood his ground and became the first black student to attend the state's flagship university, the University of Mississippi, in 1962.

Growing up in South Mississippi, I heard of this civil rights figure several times in history and Mississippi Studies classes. When I moved to Oxford to study at Ole Miss, I heard much more about him.

Some of my professors attended Ole Miss during this time and remember the riots, the tear gas and the troops. Thousands of troops went sent to Oxford by President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Speaking to someone who was a witness to this important time in history really brings the story to life, but on Thursday, it went a step further for me than just a second-hand story.

I had the opportunity to meet James Meredith when he spoke at a book signing at the Pascagoula Public Library.

He entered the meeting room before his speech covered in red and blue. I planned on trying to snap a photo with him before, but this just confirmed that idea.

His red Ole Miss Nike baseball cap, red Ole Miss Under Armour shirt with Navy blue long sleeves underneath conveyed that he was truly proud to have gone to the University of Mississippi.

And rightfully so, considering everything he went throught to get there.

Meredith spoke about his book, A Mission from God, that he said was the story of what really happened in 1962.

He was very humble about the accomplishment. He said several times it wasn't that he wanted to push through the struggle, but that God wanted him to do it. Hence, the title of the book.

I waited until after his speech and after he finished signing at least 100 books in the library lobby before I interviewed him.

I asked him why Ole Miss over any other university in the state.

“Which school did you go to?” he replied back.

When I told him Ole Miss, he said something I won't forget.

“Ole Miss is Mississippi,” he said. “It's not only the best school in Mississippi, it's the best school in America.”

The interview continued and we chatted a little about football and his outfit. But before leaving, I told him “Hotty Toddy.”

He raised his hand in the air and smiled (pretty much everything he does or says is historic).

Meredith was not just significant in the civil rights movement, but I will argue that he is an icon, though I'm sure he wouldn't agree. His bravery was a turning point for black Americans in Mississippi and his story will be told for years to come as an important time in history.

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