UM, Former PR Director Release Unpublished Photos of Meredith’s First Day in Class

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has released more than a dozen previously unpublished photographs of James Meredith on the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the integration of the state’s flagship university.

Photographed by then-student journalist Ed Meek, the sequence of photos shows Meredith in a classroom in Peabody Hall on his first day of class on Oct. 2, 1962. The photographs were taken clandestinely and have been stored in a lock box at a local bank over the last four decades. Meek, the university’s former public relations director, said that releasing the photographs now reveals the historical nature of the event.

“Mr. Meredith inside a classroom at Ole Miss was a turning point in the civil rights movement,” Meek said. “Ole Miss played a pivotal role in the civil rights struggle, and this piece of history needs to be shared with the public.”

The release of the photos coincides with the dedication of the university’s civil rights monument, which features a life-size bronze likeness of Meredith.

“I am not aware of any still photographs of Mr. Meredith inside a classroom, and I suspect these may be one-of-a-kind photographs,” said Hank Holmes, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “At the very least, they are rare, and certainly a wonderful contribution to understanding the events of that time.”

Meredith doesn’t recall which class he was attending at the time of the photographs, and when asked if he felt courageous or brave that day, he simply responded: “Neither of those words are in my vocabulary.”

“I do have one of the photos hanging on my wall,” Meredith continued. “Ed sent me one back in 1997 along with a letter.”

A graduate student and UM public relations staff writer at the time, Meek said the U.S. Marshals assigned to protect Meredith didn’t know who he was, but his face was familiar enough to them to know that he had some type of official affiliation with the university.

“I was a correspondent for UPI and the Birmingham News and worked for Ole Miss with an office inside the Lyceum,” Meek said. “I had unprecedented access to this historical event.”

Meek hid his Nikon F2 underneath his trench coat and tagged along with the Marshals as they escorted Meredith to his first class.

“President (John F.) Kennedy had ordered that no pictures be taken of Mr. Meredith in the classroom,” Meek said. “I suppose he didn’t want to disturb his educational access, but I knew this was a historical occasion that had to be documented.”

“I had a lucky moment,” Meek continued. “Standing at the classroom door, I opened up my trench coat and started snapping photographs.”

Soon afterward, Meek was officially hired by the university to coordinate the worldwide media coverage of its integration. He helped credential nearly 400 journalists from across the globe who converged on Oxford to cover the events.

“I met a young man from Texas during the integration,” Meek said. “He was Dan Rather, and I think this was one of his first national stories for CBS.”

Many journalists, including major American media networks, remained on campus for up to six months covering the story, he recalled.

A native of Charleston, Meek was 24 years old when he was appointed in 1964 as director of public information, making him the youngest department head in UM history. Then-Chancellor J. D. Williams charged Meek with rebuilding the university’s image following the racial tensions and violence that surrounded Meredith’s enrollment. Meek served UM for 37 years, retiring in 1999 as assistant vice chancellor for public relations and marketing.