In 1962, federal marshals escorted a young Black man to class on the all-white campus of the University of Mississippi. James Meredith's enrollment is the spark that ignited a movement towards an integrated higher education system in the state.
"The thing about Ole Miss, it was the premiere university of not just Mississippi but of the South," said Dr. James Meredith. "It was the institute that trained leaders. It was the Harvard of the South."
In 2002, the transformation is evident at the Oxford campus. African American students now make up 13 percent of the student body. Six percent of all full-time faculty are Black. Six percent of all executive level positions are held by African-Americans, as are 10 percent of professional positions.
"Which makes us a much more diverse community and much more reflective of the state population of Mississippi," said Ole Miss chancellor, Dr. Robert Khayat.
In the 40 years since the integration of Ole Miss many there say much has changed. Verna Bailey, a 1968 graduate and the first Black female to attend Ole Miss, recently visited her alma mater. Bailey said she was impressed.
"This campus feels great," said Bailey. "The environment feels very comfortable. I feels very good to me. And I believe this is because of the chancellor at the university. It always has to start at the top."
Ole Miss is gearing up for a major celebration on Oct. 1, marking the 40th anniversary of the university's integration. The theme: "Opening Doors, 40 Years of Opportunity."
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