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Ole Miss, 40 Years Later - 2002-10-02


Forty years ago, state-sanctioned segregation came to an end at the University of Mississippi, a southern U.S. state. James Meredith, a black 29-year-old student, integrated the university with the help of 300 federal marshals and 30,000 combat troops.

Today this event is looked at as a defining moment in the U.S. civil rights movement. But at the time the governor of the state fiercely protested it, as did thousands of white students and outsiders who rioted at the southern campus. All told, two people would die, 300 would be wounded, yet not one student was expelled, not one attacker convicted.

Forty years later the University of Mississippi is honoring James Meredith and the soldiers who helped integrate the school in that turbulent period. Current Chancellor Robert Khayat:

ROBERT KHAYAT, CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI
"Of course, we feel profound regret about what happened here in 1962. But, we can't change the past. We can only look forward."

The university is now launching a documentary project about James Meredith.

JAMES MEREDITH
"I thought that I should get an education in my own state. And 'Ole Miss,' to my knowledge, is the best university in the state."

James Meredith successfully sued to attend graduate classes at the all-white institution. William Doyle wrote a book about the times.

WILLIAM DOYLE, AUTHOR
"It was the holiest temple of white supremacy in America at the time in the deepest South."

THEN-GOVERNOR ROSS BARNETT
"Friends, I'm a Mississippi segregationist and proud of it."

Then-Governor Ross Barnett personally blocked Meredith's admission.

NEWS REPORTER
"James Meredith has just arrived. Making his way up to the tenth floor."

ROSS BARNETT
"I took an oath to uphold the laws of Mississippi."

The governor provoked a showdown with then-President John F. Kennedy; apparently believing the President would back down.

ROSS BARNETT
"And under the circumstances, at this time, it just wouldn't be fair to him, or to others, to try to register him."

PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY
"Well, what time would be fair?"

After 17 days of negotiations, the President ordered federal marshals to escort Meredith to class.

PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY
"Americans are free and sure to disagree with the law. But not to disobey it."

Riots broke out. Federal marshals were overrun, 27 were shot. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation had reports that thousands of segregationists were on their way. To avert further bloodshed, the President sent in 30,000 combat troops.

WILLIAM DOYLE
"One of the marshals said it was just like the Fourth of July when those troops marched in. It was like the cavalry coming."

After 14 hours, 300 people were injured and two were dead.

NEWS REPORTER
"James H. Meredith is formally enrolled at the University of Mississippi."

JAMES MEREDITH
"People always talk about how courageous I was. I never thought I was courageous at all. I thought I was knowledgeable. My absolute conclusion was that the only way to break the white supremacy in Mississippi was with force."

Again, University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat:

ROBERT KHAYAT, CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI
"We think we have paid the price of the terrible events of 1962."

Today, 12.5 percent of the student body is African-American. And last May, James Meredith's son, Joseph, graduated at the top of the University's business class.

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