Editors Note: We're blogging through We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel.
In 1954, the Supreme Court overturned segregation in schools, declaring “separate but equal” to be unconstitutional. In the seven years afterwards, plenty of smaller, white colleges began admitting African American students. Air Force veteran James Meredith was studying at Jackson State College, an all-black school, during 1960-62, unsuccessfully applying to Ole Miss several times in the three years. Finally, in 1961, Meredith and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) filed a lawsuit against the college. In September 1962, the US Supreme Court ordered Ole Miss to admit Meredith.
Things didn’t go as simply as hoped. Even though Meredith was escorted by US Marshals, more than 2,000 people - students and school officials included - blocked Meredith’s entry into the school. The situation quickly turned into a riot, and, after a journalist was killed and the Marshals ran out of tear gas, President Kennedy sent in military police, Border Patrol, and Mississippi National Guardsmen to help regain order. By the time the riot calmed down, over 50 Marshals had been injured and another civilian had been killed.
Finally, on October 1, 1962, Meredith attended his first class at Ole Miss. Less than a year later, in August, 1963, he graduated with a major in Political Science