Authors discusses new book on James Meredith and his battle to enroll at the University of Mississippi.





In 1962, with court backing, James Meredith became the first black person to enroll at the University of Mississippi. His struggle to enroll, and the violent actions by mobs trying to keep him out, led to a legal and political showdown that reached the White House. While there have been previous studies of this period, Charles W. Eagles had access to previously unavailable federal and state records, and personal records, for his new book, The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss (University of North Carolina Press). The book discusses not only Meredith's push to integrate the university, but Meredith's background (and how it set up his historic role) and the (quite critical) history of the university and the state during this period. Eagles, a professor of history at the university he studied, describes some of his findings and their meaning in the e-mail interview that follows.

Q: How do the new materials you obtained change the view of James Meredith?

A: Meredith emerges as a complicated, thoughtful, and in many ways consistently conservative individual, not a stereotypical movement hero or a bizarre crusader. The importance of his family background in Attala County, Mississippi, in particular becomes clear from research in unexplored public records and in James Meredith’s personal papers. His parents, for example, demonstrated personal strength and resilience. They owned their own farm and registered to vote (his father in 1919), and they also protected their children from local whites and the abuses of racial segregation. Documents from Meredith’s years in the Air Force and as a student at Jackson State record his financial support for his aging parents, as well as his developing entrepreneurial spirit through savings and investments and his commitment to continuing his education. His military records and papers for college classes reveal his intellectual and political growth in the years before applying to Ole Miss. By 1962 his family background and his experiences in the Air force had equipped him in unusual ways to challenge racial segregation at Ole Miss.

Materials from the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, and the U.S. Marshals Service permit for the first time an examination of Meredith’s 10 months as a student at the University of Mississippi. An appreciation for his courage and tenacity results from an understanding of the intense pressures he felt, not the least from constantly harassing Ole Miss students....



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