This report profiles James Meredith, who in 1962 became the first black student to attend the all-white University of Mississippi. Now, more than forty years after that historic day, Ole Miss honors Meredith with a statue.
Ole Miss Honors James Meredith
LESTER HOLT, anchor:
In a ceremony some thought they would never see in their lifetime, it honors the courage of one man who took on a school and a system and helped changed the nation. Here's NBC's Martin Savidge.
MARTIN SAVIDGE reporting:
Unidentified Man #1: You refuse to permit us to come in through the door.
Unidentified Man #2: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Man #1: All right, governor. Thank you.
Man #2: I do that politely.
SAVIDGE: In 1962 James Meredith wanted to go to the University of Mississippi. Because he was black, it took Federal marshals and troops to get him there. The riot that followed left two people dead.
Offscreen Voice: It started first with rocks and soda pop bottles being thrown at the marshals. They retaliated, firing tear gas...
SAVIDGE: The doors of Ole Miss were finally opened for all.
Mr. JAMES MEREDITH: I should hope that the outcome will affect a whole lot of people.
SAVIDGE: Today Meredith returned 44 years later, triggering not rage but reflection.
Representative JOHN LEWIS (Democrat Georgia): Because of individuals like James Meredith and many others, we have come a great distance in this country toward laying down the burden of race.
SAVIDGE: Hundreds gathered for the unveiling of a monument dedicated to the civil rights movement.
Unidentified Man #3: James Meredith.
SAVIDGE: It includes a life-size bronze likeness of Meredith standing in front of a doorway.
Mr. MEREDITH: All right.
SAVIDGE: I asked him if he felt he'd done enough for the cause of civil rights. To answer, he quoted another famous Mississippi son, William Faulkner.
Mr. MEREDITH: “The past is never dead. It's not even past. It's all now, you see. Because yesterday won't be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began 10,000 years ago.”
SAVIDGE: But today it was about the past, as James Meredith was finally able to come face to face with what he'd done. Open doors, so that others could forever follow. Martin Savidge, NBC News, Oxford, Mississippi.
PHILADELPHIA — A century before the fight to end Jim Crow segregation laws, Octavius Valentine Catto was leading a civil rights movement in Philadelphia.
The 19th-century educator and activist fought for better education for black students, led efforts to desegregate the city's streetcars and pushed for equal voting rights — all before he was killed at age 32. His contributions to American democracy rival some of the country's most celebrated patriots, yet his story has remained largely unknown.