By his own admission, James Meredith has always struggled to understand his impact on the University of Mississippi as its first African-American student.
His enrollment in 1962 sparked national controversy and led to a campus riot that left two people dead, a bloody end to segregation at the university that cast a decades-long spotlight on Ole Miss’ continued resistance to parting with its Old South roots.
Though Meredith has remained tied to and fond of his alma mater, he’s never held back his opinions about how the university has handled racial reconciliation since his time as a student, especially when it involves his legacy.
Years after Ole Miss erected a statue in Meredith’s likeness on campus in 2006—at a ceremony in which he wasn’t allowed to deliver his speech due to “time constraints”—he said it should be torn down, along with the Confederate statue located nearby.
“The James Meredith statue is a false idol,” Meredith wrote in his 2012 autobiography, “A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America.”
“It must be destroyed and ground to dust.”
After being honored at last weekend’s triennial Black Alumni Reunion at the University of Mississippi, however—an event he resisted since it was first organized in the 1980s—he’s had a significant change of heart.
“I fought it for at least 30 years, just like I fought the statue,” he said, as reported by The Daily Mississippian. “I’ve been telling (the) chancellors, ‘Take that statue down and take the Confederate statue down and we’re going to solve both problems.’ After this weekend, I know that ain’t the way to solve it. I understand that.”
Meredith said the reunion itself is what changed his mind and heart about the statue, which he told attendees he hasn’t even looked at since the 2006 ceremony.
“As a matter of fact … I’m going to go look at the statue behind the Lyceum for the first time since they put it up,” he said.