When James Meredith enrolled as the first African American student at the University of Mississippi in 1962, the resulting riots produced more casualties than any other clash of the civil rights era. Eagles shows that the violence resulted from the university's and the state's long defiance of the civil rights movement and federal law. Ultimately, the price of such behavior--the price of defiance--was not only the murderous riot that rocked the nation and almost closed the university but also the nation's enduring scorn for Ole Miss and Mississippi. Eagles paints a remarkable portrait of Meredith himself by describing his unusual family background, his personal values, and his service in the U.S. Air Force, all of which prepared him for his experience at Ole Miss.
University of Mississippi historian Eagles turns a critical eye on his own university in this exhaustive and exhausting look at racism at Ole Miss. Although James Meredith, the school's first black student, figures prominently in the title, he takes center stage only in the book's second half, which examines the opposition to his historic 1962 enrollment. With painstaking research and detail, Eagles explores the university's history, from its founding in 1848 as an alternative to Northern universities, where students might be exposed to abolitionist ideas. Eagles also shows how the foundation for Meredith's enrollment was laid by earlier black applicants, who included Medgar Evers (turned down for the law school in 1954) and a pastor named Clennon King, also rejected and placed in a mental hospital for 12 days following a politically motivated lunacy hearing after his rejection. In chapters dense with material from court rulings and memoirs by the parties involved, Eagles traces the legal and political standoff before Meredith's first day on campus and the university's eventual confrontation, with the fatal riot that ensued. Photos.