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A Change for the Better: JFK and His Lasting Impact on Mississippi

OXFORD, Miss.–The struggle for equality in Mississippi reached a critical point in 1962 when James Meredith became the first African-American to enroll at the University of Mississippi. It was Pres. John F. Kennedy who was responsible for enforcing the court order that put Meredith there. Some believe that no other event marks Kennedy’s lasting impact on the Magnolia State like this one.

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Dallas.

Before Meredith enrolled and riots broke out, Kennedy made a call to then-Miss. Gov. Ross Barnett, an avowed segregationist who opposed federal involvement.

“It’s not my order, I just have to carry it out,” said Kennedy, “so I want to try to do it with you in a way that is most satisfactory and causes the least chance of damage to the people of Mississippi.”

Barnett then suggested that Kennedy allow a cooling off period before enforcing the order. When asked how long, Barnett indicated that it maybe could be indefinite, but that he would cooperate.

Ultimately Meredith enrolled, but the fallout was violent in Oxford.

While Kennedy did not ultimately sign Civil Rights legislation like the Voting Rights Act, he laid the groundwork.

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