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Drake State hears from civil rights icon James Meredith

Published 8:38pm Wednesday, February 13, 2013

HUNTSVILLE — An icon and catalyst in the civil rights movement shared his message on the J.F. Drake State Technical College campus on Feb. 12.

Dr. James Meredith visited Drake State as part of campus observances for Black History Month. Meredith was the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi.

“We had a large crowd at the event … probably close to 300 people,” director of public relations Lisa G. Burton said. Dr. Elogene Hughes, Meredith’s longtime acquaintance, introduced him to the audience.

Much of Meredith’s speech concerned improvement in his home state of Mississippi. “He said that black people are failing their young people, and Mississippi is the ‘center of the black/white universe,” Burton said.

Drake State President Helen T. McAlpine said she wanted students “to hear from a person that certainly experienced some of the ills in our society but was also able to take that ill and make it a positive. He was able to desegregate an institution that knew no African-American student.”

After high school, Meredith served nine years in the Army Air Force. He then enrolled in an all-black Mississippi school, Jackson State College. He applied to enter Ole Miss in 1961, was admitted and then had his admission revoked when officials learned he was black.

In 1962, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy called for military escort for Meredith when he enrolled on the Oxford campus. Meredith, 79, is a 1963 graduate of Ole Miss. He continued his education at Columbia University to earn a juris doctorate degree.

At Drake State, Meredith signed his latest book, “A Mission from God.”

“I thought he had a powerful message and enjoyed hearing him speak,” Burton said.

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