History Timeline 1960's

Photo above: Astronaut John Glenn pictured above with President John F. Kennedy looking inside the Mercury Space Capsule in 1962. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Soyuz TMA-7 Spacecraft. Courtesy NASA.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1960s

Civil Rights and Turmoil

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  • Timeline

  • 1962 - Detail

    October 1, 1962 - Three thousand troops quell riots, allowing James Meredith to enter the University of Mississippi as the first black student under guard by Federal marshals.

    James Meredith

    You would have thought we would had learned our lessons on Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, and the honorable way to treat everyone in the United States as equals nearly one hundred years after the Civil War had ended, but we had not. You would have thought that treating all, with respect, no matter their differences, would have been corrected by today, but while significantly changed for the better, it has not. In 1962, those lessons, and rights, were at such a depth, that riots were held, and needed to be quelled, because a black man wanted to get an education at an institution run by the state of Mississippi. However, that was the case when James Meredith wanted to gain a higher education as the 1962 semester started.

    James Meredith was a United States Air Force veteran, having served nine years in the service. He was of black, Scottish, and Choctaw heritage.

    "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 "n-word" to my face was the first day I went to Ole Miss," James Meredith, 2012, Esquire Magazine.

    In 1961, he decided, at the end of his enlistment, that his goal was to attend the University of Mississippi, testing the words of President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address of one day before that his constitutional and civil rights should be enforced. The University of Mississippi still had not integrated, refusing to adhere to the rulings in Brown vs Board of Education that public institutions must admit all students, regardless of race. He was denied admittance to the university twice.

    On May 31, 1961, Meredith, with backing of the NAACP, filed suit in the United States District Court, claiming that his denials were based solely on race, with his stellar military record and past education qualifications making him eligible. Both the U.S. District Court of Appeals, ruling for Meredith, and eventually the Supreme Court, appealed to by the state of Mississippi against, agreed. James Meredith had a right to be admitted to the University of Mississippi.

    "My answer to the racial problem in America is to not deal with it at all. The founding fathers dealt with it when they made the Constitution," James Meredith, Quoteswave.

    This would not deter the state of Mississippi, however, whose governor, Ross Barnett, stated that integration would not happen during his term, convincing the state legislature to pass laws that banned admittance to their universities if certain crimes had been committed and not pardoned. They then charged and convicted Meredith of false voter registration. When this ploy was overturned, the University of Mississippi planned to admit Meredith, but Governor Barnett was steadfast in his opposition. On September 28, 1962, Barnett was found in contempt and ordered to allow admittance by October 2.


    A series of conversations had begun between Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Governor Ross Barnett between September 27 and October 1, with Kennedy finally convincing Barnett to admit Meredith. To save face, Kennedy would issue an order for Federal Marshalls, U.S. Border Patrol Agents, and other officers, five hundred and forty in number, to accompany Meredith on his first day at the school, and thereafter, and assist Barnett in maintaining civil order.

    Riots broke out on campus between opponents of integration, up to three thousand in number, and federal officers on September 29-30, 1962, with two citizens killed and university property destroyed. With peace restored by federal forces by October 1, James Meredith was escorted to class as the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi. On August 18, 1963, Meredith would graduate with a degree in political science, his first two years at Jackson State allowing graduation after those semesters. He had been harassed and isolated during his two years on campus. Federal marshals accompanied him throughout his studies.

    "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," James Meredith, 2012, Esquire Magazine.

    Photo above: James Meredith accompanied by U.S. marshalls on first day at the University of Mississippi, October 1, 1962, Marion S. Trikosko, U.S. News and World Report. Courtesy Library of Congress. Photo below: U.S. Army trucks at University of Mississippi, September 30, 1962, Jerry Huff, United Press International. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: "James Meredith, What I've Learned," 2012, Cal Fussman, Esquire Magazine; Quoteswave.com; Wikipedia Commons.

    Federal troops at James Meredith's admittance

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