civil-rights leader, author
Birthplace: Kosciusko, Miss.
James Meredith was one of the pioneers of the civil rights movement. In 1962 he became the first Black student to successfully enroll at the University of Mississippi. The state's governor, Ross Barnett, vociferously opposed his enrollment, and the violence and rioting surrounding the incident caused President Kennedy to send 5,000 federal troops to restore the peace. Meredith graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1963 (he had entered the university as a transfer student from an all-Black college). For a number of years, Meredith continued to work as a civil rights activist, most notably by leading the March Against Fear in 1966, a protest against voter registration intimidation. During the march, which began in Memphis, Tenn., and ended in Jackson, Miss., Meredith was shot and wounded, hospitalized, and then rejoined the march in its last days. He enrolled in Columbia University, where he received a law degree in 1968, and worked as a stock broker. At some point, his politics took a sharp swing to the right, and Meredith renounced his role in the civil rights movement, opposed the holiday honoring Martin Luther King, and staunchly opposed affirmative action. From 1989 to 1991, he became an adviser to southern conservative Senator Jesse Helms.