Newly released photos show Meredith in class during 1962 UM integration

Published 12:28 am Sunday, October 1, 2006

The University of Mississippi is releasing more than a dozen previously unpublished photographs of James Meredith on of the 44th anniversary of his integration of the university.

The photos were taken by Ed Meek, who was a student journalist at the time and later served 37 years as the university’s director of public information. The black-and-white photos show Meredith in a classroom in Peabody Hall on his first day of class on Oct. 2, 1962.

A news release from the university says the photos were taken clandestinely and have been stored in a lock box at a bank over the last four decades.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

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

Meek agreed to release the photos as the university prepares for the dedication ceremony Sunday of a campus civil rights monument featuring a life-size bronze likeness of Meredith.

Hank Holmes, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said he was not aware of any other photographs of Meredith inside a classroom at the time.

“I suspect these may be one-of-a-kind photographs,” Holmes said in the release. “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 when the pictures were taken, and when asked if he felt courageous or brave that day, he responded: “Neither of those words are in my vocabulary.”

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

A graduate student and Ole Miss 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.

Meek said he was a correspondent for UPI and the Birmingham News and worked for Ole Miss with an office inside the main administration building, the Lyceum.

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

“President 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.”

Meek said he had “a lucky moment.”

“Standing at the classroom door, I opened up my trench coat and started snapping photographs,” he said.

Soon afterward, Meek was 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.

Meek, a Charleston native, was 24 when he was appointed in 1964 as director of public information. He retired in 1999 as assistant vice chancellor for public relations and marketing.