Every day, students at the University of Mississippi pay tribute to the legacy of James Meredith simply by walking through the doors of a classroom and sitting with one another. Students of every race, every ethnic background, hailing from Mississippi and from huge cities or rural villages around the world, learn and live together because of Meredith’s uncommon bravery.
When Meredith faced down legal challenges and a racist, violent mob to enroll as the first Black student at the University of Mississippi on Oct. 1, 1962, his courage paved the way for thousands of students who followed. That is his legacy.
UM alumnus and Mississippi native J. Steven Blake, now a physician in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recently established the James H. Meredith Legacy Scholarship Fund as another, tangible way to “contribute to Mr. Meredith’s legacy and memorialize his presence at the university.”
“The courageous actions by James Meredith in 1962 stand among the most profoundly meaningful events in our university’s history, and it is truly an honor to work with the Merediths, the planning committee and other campus stakeholders in commemorating the 60th anniversary of his enrollment,” said Shawnboda Mead, vice chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement. “We are deeply grateful to Dr. Blake for creating this thoughtful scholarship in Mr. Meredith’s honor.”
As a child in Coahoma County in the 1960s, Blake remembers hearing about Meredith, his courage and his experiences at Ole Miss.
Blake himself chose to make Ole Miss his college home during his sophomore year of high school while attending a Future Business Leaders of America conference on the Oxford campus. His college experiences were “not all good or all bad.”
“My parents helped me mentally and emotionally keep race relations in perspective. I am a lifetime member of the Ole Miss Alumni Association — a devoted, loving alumnus of the University of Mississippi.”
Blake, a gastroenterologist, is also an alumnus of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he has served on the Board of Trustees and as an assistant clinical professor.
When he had a chance to meet Meredith in the Chancellor’s Box of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at the 2012 Homecoming game, Blake said he was “giddy, excited and thrilled.”
“I was anxious to connect with Mr. Meredith. I wanted him to know I had the utmost respect for him and his unselfish sacrifice to do what he did. He transformed Ole Miss, the state of Mississippi and every institution of higher learning in the country and abroad.
“I am a believer in giving back. Because I have so much respect for the challenges he endured so that other African Americans could attend the University of Mississippi, I was inspired to begin this scholarship fund.”
Recipients of the Meredith Scholarship will be incoming freshmen from one of the following counties in the Mississippi Delta: Washington, DeSoto, Humphreys, Carroll, Issaquena, Panola, Quitman, Bolivar, Coahoma, Leflore, Sunflower, Sharkey, Tate, Tunica, Tallahatchie, Holmes, Grenada, Yazoo and Warren. Students from Meredith’s home county, Attala, will also be eligible. Recipients will have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average and have financial need.
He encourages others to make gifts to the scholarship fund.
“No matter your race or gender, we should all be driven to do good,” Blake said. “Contributions to this scholarship fall in line with doing good and what’s right for those less fortunate who want to work hard and achieve academic credentials.”
On October 1, 1962, James Meredith’s enrollment profoundly changed our institution for the better. Your support of the James Meredith Scholarship builds upon that legacy and declares the next 60 years as a time to achieve more.
In 1965, Verna Bailey became the first Black woman to enroll in the University, bravely continuing the fight for equity within our campus community. Your support of the James Meredith Legacy Scholarship builds on Ms. Bailey’s legacy by providing opportunities for all students.
The Black Student Union received its incorporation as a student organization on March 25, 1969. Since then, the organization has stimulated the intellectual, political, cultural, and social growth of all University of Mississippi students. When you support the James Meredith Legacy Scholarship, you create space at UM that builds community, supports leadership program, and raises awareness for diverse students.
In 1979, Rose Jackson Flenorl became the first Black female student named to the UM Student Hall of Fame. Flenorl continues to serve our institution philanthropically and as a mentor. A gift of $79 to the James Meredith Legacy Scholarship continues Flenorl’s mission to provide opportunities for students to develop leadership, receive mentorship and find community among their peers.
In 1994, Dr. Louis Westerfield became the first Black Dean at UM when he was nominated to serve the UM School of Law. Upon his death in 1996, a former student said, “When they think of a dean, they think of a figurehead, but when I think of Dean Westerfield, I think of a friend, a father figure and a mentor. He truly is my hero.”
On June 6, 1966, Meredith set out from Memphis with an African walking stick in one hand, a Bible in the other, and a singular mission in mind. He planned to march alone 220 miles to the Mississippi state capital of Jackson to prove that an African-American man could walk free in the South. But on the second day of the March, Meredith was shot in the head, neck, back and leg by a white assailant. Remarkably, Meredith rejoined the march just 20 days later.
This year, Dr. Ethel Scurlock was appointed Dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, making her the first Black female Dean at the University of Mississippi. Dean Scurlock is among the most beloved professors on campus, having opened many students’ minds and hearts in her Survey of African American Literature courses. Your gift of $341 provides more learning opportunities like those that Dr. Scurlock has provided for 26 years and counting.
Ole Miss’ first Black student-athlete, Coolidge Ball, signed the Rebels’ last available basketball scholarship for the 1970-71 season. He led the Rebels with 42 assists in his first varsity season. Peggy Gillom was the first Black female student to receive an Ole Miss athletic scholarship. She owns the single-game Ole Miss record for rebounds at Tad Smith Coliseum with 20 rebounds. Ben Williams joined James Reed in 1971 to become the first Black students to sign football scholarships with the Rebels. Williams would amass 377 tackles for Ole Miss. In the 1976 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills selected Williams in the 3rd round. Reed was drafted in the 9th round by the Cleveland Browns.
In 2020, in the spot where 89 African-American students were arrested in 1970 during a peaceful demonstration on campus, the “Ole Miss 8” – eight student leaders who were expelled from every public institution by the state of Mississippi as a result of their protest – came back to gather to recall the event and receive an apology from the University. Your gift of $800 honors the sacrifice of these courageous trailblazers.
James Meredith was the first in his family to graduate from college. By giving $1,500, you help the more than 1,500 first-generation students at Ole Miss achieve this transformative milestone for their families and communities.
In 2000 Nic Lott was elected by his peers to serve as student body president, the first Black student body president at the University of Mississippi. “One of the things I’m most proud of,” Lott said, “is that one day (after my election) Mr. Meredith said to me, ‘I chose Ole Miss, but Ole Miss chose you.’”
By the end of Meredith’s March Against Fear on June 26, 1966, the number of marchers who stepped in to continue Meredith’s mission reached 15,000. The resulting protest at the Capitol in Jackson is still the largest civil rights demonstration in Mississippi history. It was at this rally that Stokely Carmichael first publicly said “Black Power,” urging self-determination and Black pride. To many Mississippians, it was a great moment of inspiration.