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Though Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence wrote that the United States would be founded on the principles that all men were created equal, nearly 200 years would pass before the principle was put into any real practice. Although the end of the Civil War opened the door for the passage of the Civil War Amendments, which abolished slavery, and, in theory, granted the descendants of both free and enslaved blacks the same rights as those enjoyed by whites, those rights were not respected or practiced during the century following the war.
Most aspects of life, including schooling, remained segregated on every level, especially throughout the Jim Crow South, and the years following the desegregation triumph of Brown v. Board of the Education in 1954 saw little done to accomplish the instructions given by the Supreme Court, especially at the university level.
Enter James Meredith, a young man of 28 who decided to make it his life's mission to change that situation. In doing so, he took aim at the very heart of Southern segregation: the University of Mississippi. He might have chosen any school, but Meredith had a special interest in Mississippi, as it was his native state; he had grown up near his hometown's current mayor and likely had something of a personal score to settle, as well as a political one.
He applied to the university in 1961 not only to get an education but to give one in an effort to teach the white people of Mississippi and the nation that they could no longer exclude their black neighbors from their lives. Of course, he also aimed to empower black citizens and demonstrate that they were indeed citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else.