This Day in History

Sept. 20, 1962: James Meredith Attempts to Register at University of Mississippi

Time Periods: People’s Movement: 1961 - 1974
Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements, Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights

Backed by a Supreme Court ruling, James Meredith attempted to register at the University of Mississippi on Sept. 20, 1962 but was personally blocked by Governor Ross Barnett.

Meredith explained,

I was engaged in a war. I considered myself engaged in a war from day one. And my objective was to force the federal government — the Kennedy administration at that time — into a position where they would have to use the United States military force to enforce my rights as a citizen.

James Meredith | Zinn Education Project

James Meredith.

Constance Baker Motley, James Meredith and Jack Greenberg. Source: La Guardia and Wagner Archives.

In a TV address to the state, Barnett declared,

There is no case in history where the Caucasian race has survived social integration. We will not drink from the cup of genocide. … We must either submit to the unlawful dictates of the Federal government or stand up like men and tell them never! … No school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your Governor!

Looking back years later, Constance Baker Motley said,

People have forgotten about it, but it was, as I say, the last battle of the Civil War, actually fought on this campus that night.

Read “James Meredith Integrates ‘Ole Miss” at CRMvet.org for a more detailed account.