Riot ensues after James Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss

Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 3:44 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Most people are familiar with the story of James Meredith, the first African-American student to enroll at Ole Miss, and the riot that resulted on the Oxford campus after word spread that he’d been admitted.

But his journey actually started before that.

On September 25 of 1962, Meredith tried to enroll at the Ole Miss registrar’s office in Jackson, which was then located in the Woolfolk State Office Building across from the Capitol.

When WLBT got word it was happening, the station took its cameras to the site and provided live coverage from Meredith’s arrival amid a mob of protesters to the point when Governor Ross Barnett himself denied Meredith admission to the university.

It was one week later that Meredith finally was admitted, but it was not a peaceful process. Word spread quickly, and people from all over the Southeast went to Oxford to protest.

A campus riot on the night of September 30 cost two men their lives.

William D. Mounger, an Ole Miss graduate who was president of WLBT parent company Lamar Life Insurance, went on the air to urge Governor Barnett to go to Oxford himself -- and urge people not to resort to further violence.

“We are part of the United States of America, and we must obey the laws of the United States of America,” he said.

Mounger also told WLBT’s general manager at the time, Fred Beard, to stop going on the air to make comments that only inflamed the situation.

It was a tense time across the state, but the end result was that the University of Mississippi became an integrated institution after years of enrolling only white students.

In August of 1963, Meredith graduated - the first Black student to receive an Ole Miss degree. He’d been accompanied to every class by federal marshals to keep him safe.

Meredith had transferred from Jackson State. His admission to Ole Miss broke a barrier that had never been crossed before.

He’s now 89 and still lives in the Jackson area.

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