In Fall 1962, the University of Mississippi was the scene of violent riots in protest of James Meredith’s attempts to enroll as the segregated school’s first Black student.
When Meredith, a 29-year-old Air Force veteran born in Mississippi, sought to enroll at Ole Miss, Governor Ross Barnett, a member of the pro-segregation White Citizens’ Council, personally blocked him twice. On September 28, 1962, a federal appeals court held Barnett in contempt of court for violating his duty to maintain order and allow Meredith to lawfully enroll.
On September 30, 1962, the next date set for Meredith’s enrollment, mobs formed on campus and riots raged, killing two people and injuring many others. The next day, after President John F. Kennedy sent federal marshals to escort him, Meredith successfully enrolled and attended his first classes.
Mississippi Attorney General Joe Patterson instructed university students that it was their constitutional right to refuse “to socialize or fraternize with an undesirable student” and unrest continued. Meredith suffered ongoing isolation, harassment, and violence. In October, students rioted and broke university cafeteria windows as Meredith ate there; in December, his home was struck by shotgun blasts that nearly injured his teenaged sister and a dead raccoon was left on his car. Meredith persisted and on August 18, 1963, he graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in political science. Three years later, he was shot during a civil rights demonstration but survived.