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.
Dr. Steven Blake graduated from Ole Miss in 1980 and went on to medical school. He established the James Meredith Legacy Scholarship to celebrate the impact Meredith has had on generations of students.“There are a lot of things young people and all people can learn from Mr. Meredith including courage, determination and the importance of education,” Blake said. “For students to know his story will inspire them in their work — to believe they can do whatever they put their minds to doing.”
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.”