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The Maundy Monday Newsletter - This Week in History August 14 - 20.
Happy Monday, friends! Thank you for reading Okay History!
James Meredith was born in a small town in Mississippi in June 1933. He was the seventh of eleven children whose parents were descendants of the Choctaw Indian tribe who had intermarried with European settlers and enslaved Africans.
Life was tough in rural Mississippi, so Meredith left to finish high school in Florida, where he lived with his aunt.
Inspired by President Kennedy’s inaugural speech, Meredith decided he would force the Kennedy administration to enforce his right as an American citizen and integrate the University of Mississippi, which had twice denied him admission.
Ole Miss was still segregated in 1961, despite the Supreme Court ruling on Brown vs. Board of Education eight years prior. Meredith sued, and every court, including the Supreme one, agreed with Meredith’s position that he should be allowed to attend.
Democratic Governor Rod Barnett declared Ole Miss would never be desegregated under his leadership, and the standoff began. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy intervened and ordered over a hundred US Marshalls and, for some reason, Federal Bureau of Prisons and Border Patrol officers to escort Meredith to registration and classes. On August 18, 1963, Meredith became the first African American to graduate from Ole Miss.
Martin Luther King, Jr. highlighted Meredith’s struggles in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. MLK praised the young James as a civil rights hero, a distinction that, strangely, Meredith refused to embrace.
After leaving Ole Miss, Meredith moved to New York, where he graduated with a law degree at Columbia University in 1968.
Two years prior, Meredith led a solo march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, calling it the March Against Fear. During the 220-mile trek, he encouraged other black men to join him to highlight the racial violence still persistent in Mississippi and wanted to encourage people to register to vote.
It was during the walk, protected by police, that a white man shot and wounded Meredith. While recovering, thousands of people joined him in the March, including MLK himself. 15,000 people entered Jackson to celebrate their freedoms and demand voting rights.
Later in life, Meredith would get involved in politics in New York and Mississippi. He ran for office twice as a Republican, losing both times, and moved to Washington, DC, to work for North Carolina senator and avowed segregationist Jesse Helms.
Yeah, that’s not a joke. It gets wilder.
Meredith would even support the political return of Barnett and the gubernatorial run of KKK enthusiast David Duke.
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Meredith turned 90 a few months ago and still thinks the Civil Rights movement was framed as an idea that made black people in America second-class citizens.
I have no idea how one comes to this conclusion, but I also don’t have a statue built of me standing on a campus like Meredith does at Ole Miss.
Okay, let's highlight what else happened this week. Here's what I got:
1. Babe Ruth died on August 15, 1948. The baseball legend launched a championship dynasty for the New York Yankees and cursed the team that traded him, the Boston Red Sox. He is one of four people who have hit over 700 career home runs but is the only person to do it on a diet of hotdogs, beer, and cigarettes.
2. The United States ended military involvement in Vietnam on August 15, 1973. Congress set the date of August 15 to cease military actions when it passed the Case–Church amendment to a spending bill. It declared no more money for bombs unless the president asked Congress for approval. Church was a Democratic senator from Idaho, so it sounds like something that happened fifty years ago.
3. Madonna was born on August 16, 1958. The Queen of Pop has many distinctions over a career spanning four decades. She’s won like a billion Grammys, a few acting awards, and is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. If you have seen her lately, her face looks like it has been stung by 700 bees.
Anonymous is still gone, presumably doing spy stuff or whatever. I hope she comes back. She said she would.
I will be back on Friday with something fun. I hope you have
a great week; waiting in anticipation!