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Here’s to you, Mr. Meredith

Adam Llorens | Monday, October 1, 2012

Legal racial segregation is a concept few Americans can comprehend. The idea of it just seems so unimaginable – so incomprehensible – that even the thought of a law prohibiting a black student from attending a state-funded university seems absurd.

Facing rioters of students and segregationists, James Meredith broke this barrier by becoming the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi on October 1, 1962. As Ole Miss commemorates the 50th anniversary of this monumental occasion, it is imperative for students at every university to understand Meredith’s courageous actions and their application in the world today.

We often take for granted the freedoms we are born with – the freedom to vote, to attend a public school, to apply to any university of our choice. For Meredith, these rights were mere dreams. Despite apprehension from family members, hatred from former Mississippi governor Ross Barnett and racially charged signs and expletives shouted at him by fellow students – despite all this, Meredith walked to class.

He walked with aide from the Army’s military police, United States Border Patrol and Mississippi National Guard. He walked for Ruby Bridges, the Little Rock Nine and the millions more who shared a young Atlanta preacher’s dream. Above all, Meredith walked for us – college students of the 21st century who converse, eat and study with peers of all races.

Now 79 years old and living happily in Jackson, Miss., how would Meredith react if he visited Our Lady’s University?

Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones stated: “On the anniversary of such an important event, it is important to express regret for past injustices, recommit to open doors of opportunity for all, regardless of race or ethnicity, celebrate the progress achieved together and acknowledge that we still live in an imperfect world and must continue to seek to rid ourselves and the world of injustice.”

On this historic day, remember the cardinal role James Meredith played in the higher education landscape. Celebrate our accomplishments in the quest for equal education – but recognize the long road we still have to travel.

Meredith coined his first walk to class at the Oxford magnolia tree-line campus as a “walk against fear.” So 50 years later, here’s to you, Mr. Meredith. Let us continue this walk in your honor.

Contact Adam Llorens at [email protected]

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.