James Meredith

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James Meredith in 2007

James Howard Meredith (born June 25, 1933) is an American civil rights activist, writer, political adviser, and Air Force veteran who became, in 1962, the first African-American student admitted to the racially segregated University of Mississippi after the intervention of the federal government (an event that was a flashpoint in the Civil rights movement).


Interview with Jackson Free Press (2008)[edit]

  • There's nothing more powerful than someone that everyone can say is crazy, but everybody knows they're are not. Fear is a two-way street, Most people only think it's a one-way street. Nothing is more powerful than a person being in a situation where everyone thinks they ought to be fearful, and they do not show any fear. What that situation does is scare the life out of everybody else. Know it's a fact: When (then-Lt. Gov.) Paul Johnson stopped us in the middle of the street (in 1962) ... he was shaking so bad that he couldn't hold his hand straight. Back then, the football players that couldn't make it to the pros got automatic positions on the state police. So you had all those 300-pound state troopers backing up against the wall, and every one of them was shaking like a leaf on a tree.
  • Now I'm going to use all my energy to do what I think God sent me here to do. ("What is that?") To make the Christian world, particularly, know what the biblical and Jesus' own command is for them to do for the poor. And the only thing I'm connecting myself to with this debate at Oxford is this March Against AIDS. Not because it's that, but the AIDS problem is what it is because of the condition of the poor, and the responsibility (the rich shirk) to give to the poor. When they give anything, they think it's a gift. You understand? But that absolutely ain't the way Christ meant it. It was an absolute responsibility. That's the message God called me to deliver; and that's what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. To tell you the truth, the last 10, 15 years, I've spent trying to figure out why in the world God let me stay in (my life).
  • ("Isn't it easy to take a stance on fighting AIDS?") No, it's not easy. ... The media has decided they are not going to deal with AIDS in America.
  • There's a fourth (branch of government): the media, which is a thousand times more powerful than all the others put together. You see, you all are always blaming the Klan, the Ku Klux Klan. They ain't the ones making the policy; (the Klan) do what other powers allow them to do. Dealing with the black/white issue in America, that's been the Southern Baptists, and the most powerful are the Mississippi Southern Baptists. All other states have deferred to Mississippi and follow their lead on what policies can be agreed to. ... [Y]ou hear people talking about the "Bubba faction." The white, poor working class faction: That exists because the media, for 40 years, went on a program of making all whites feel like they were descended from the slave-holding class. There was nothing further from truth ... (White supremacy) wasn't about the (poor white) people who were always blamed; it was the powers-that-be.
  • Understand: The greatest supporters of white supremacy are blacks who have "made it." They are the last people who want substantial change because they don't know where they will fit after change. You understand? But that's secondary. The main issue in America today is the whites who lived all their life on this promise of getting something better than nonwhites, are now being cut off, they think.
  • I think Ole Miss is the most progressive of any major school in the nation when it comes to race issues...For the first 35 years after I went there, you would have found nothing at Ole Miss that made you know that James Meredith had ever been there. Almost since the time of present administration (Chancellor Robert Khayat), they made what I am sure, although they never told me, was a conscious decision to change. I think the decision was to educate Mississippians, not to keep the nation off their back, but they genuinely went out looking for blacks to educate. For the first 35 years, you couldn't have read nothing (done by Ole Miss) to know I was there.
  • Do you know what the words "African American" really imply? That the person doesn't have the natural right to be there, so that whatever right they have has to be given to them. John Kennedy's daddy spent his whole life and a whole lot of money trying to keep from becoming (called) half Native American. For blacks to get control of the set-asides, the black elite deliberately set up this African American thing. Jesse Jackson called a meeting a long time ago of elite blacks, determined to use this term. The majority of blacks hated this term with a passion, but the media is pushing it down their throats.
  • there are nine people who control the Southern Baptists, who control America, and America controls the world. I don't know how many people control the media, but there aren't a whole lot more than that.
  • my real focus is on producing citizens without any identification. Don't call me African American; I am a citizen of the United States of America. That's the designation that I want everybody to reach.
  • White supremacy is worldwide; the whole war against Hitler was about white supremacy. It's not just an issue in America. I found out last time I was in Europe. I went to Eastern Europe; that's when I found out that white supremacy is just as powerful there as the worst days in Mississippi.
  • The use of this race thing was to keep the poor whites poor but happy, because they could still feel they were better than the blacks. That's where you are now with groups saying, "Let the past stay in the past." That's not really what they're about. It's still all about "Us" and "Them," and they have never considered "Them" anymore "Us" than they consider me.
  • Democracy has some good points, but it ain't hardly what most Americans think it is.
  • I think the future of the United States of America will be determined by two groups of people: well-to-do white women over 70, and professional or well-to-do white males under 40. What most people don't know is that it was the rich white females that defeated the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment).
  • The big fight among evangelicals is whether you interpret the Bible through metaphors or you literally believe that what is said in the Bible: that the rich should help the poor. It literally says in the Bible that the rich should help the poor, that farmers could not harvest all the crops.
  • Bear Bryant had a quota of five blacks on his team. In NFL, until 15 or 20 years ago, everyone said a black couldn't be quarterback. Now if he can win, he can be the quarterback. It's not an issue any more. Even Tiger Woods: When he first came on scene it was an issue. Today nobody anywhere in the world wants to have a golf tournament if Tiger Woods ain't on the team.
  • What we need is to shift the focus from race and color to rich and poor.
  • You don't win elections just by having people on the roads who are on your side. You understand: Any good politicians knows if you can keep the right people away from the polls, it will make all the difference. Like this Florida thing: The whites sent out letters telling blacks they're going to be arrested (if they got a record when they vote). That's for real. I know there are more ways to keep people from doing something than to get them to do something. I guarantee you that the Republicans know more tricks than I do.

Interview with Esquire (2012)[edit]

  • What any human being can do in life depends upon the foundation laid between birth and age five.
  • The biggest untold story in American history is what happened to the Native Americans east of the Mississippi River.
  • I've always bragged about getting my principles from my father, but it was my momma who showed me how.
  • My great-grandfather was the last ruler of the Choctaw Nation...When I was growing up, we saw ourselves as Native Americans. I was really shielded. I knew literally nothing about blacks. The first time I was called "nigger" to my face was the first day I went to Ole Miss...Everybody else was dealing with the black-white war. Tell you the truth, I was still fighting the European-Indian war.
  • What I did at Ole Miss had nothing to do with going to classes. My objective was to destroy the system of white supremacy.
  • I thought I couldn't die. And I really believed it. I know better now. But I'm glad I didn't know better then.
  • I knew the only way to beat Mississippi was with the United States military. I had not just the United States Army fighting my war against Mississippi, but President Kennedy sent in the best of the United States Army.
  • My statue at Ole Miss is a false idol. And it wasn't put there for my benefit. It was put there for Ole Miss and Mississippi...Ole Miss kicked my butt and they're still celebrating. Because every black that's gone there since me has been insulted, humiliated, and they can't even tell their story. Everybody has to tell James Meredith's story — which is a lie. The powers that be in Mississippi understand this very clearly. See, I've been telling them for fifty years how insulting it is to me to suggest that I had to be courageous to confront some ignorant white folks. And recently, they told me they really understand, but they're gonna keep doing it. I can't figure a way to make 'em stop. They're gonna keep on doin' it because it makes it impossible for the blacks there now to say anything about what's happened to them. Because the comparison is with the idol.
  • Western civilization has worked like this: They marched in armor and took over. Almost all of the wealth comes from developing land. England never paid a dime for a single acre. But now there's no more land to take. They've tried in space for fifty years and they haven't found no place out there. So we're gonna have to learn to do what the Native Americans knew how to do: live the good life on the land that's there.
  • To get people to see beyond themselves is the most difficult thing of all.

Quotes about James Meredith[edit]

  • (Have you ever known anyone who seemed to you great?) JB: James Meredith. He's a very tough and loving little man
    • 1969 interview Conversations with James Baldwin, edited by Fred R. Standley and Louis H. Pratt (1989)
  • Meredith had come to prominence by being the first Black student to attend the all-white University of Mississippi. White supremacists rioted in protest at his admission, burning cars, destroying property and attacking federal agents and US troops with rocks, bricks and gunfire. After the violence subsided, many white students reportedly shunned and harassed him.

External links[edit]

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