The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss / Edition 1

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When James Meredith enrolled as the first African American student at the University of Mississippi in 1962, the resulting riots produced more casualties than any other clash of the civil rights era. Eagles shows that the violence resulted from the university's and the state's long defiance of the civil rights movement and federal law. Ultimately, the price of such behavior—the price of defiance—was not only the murderous riot that rocked the nation and almost closed the university but also the nation's enduring scorn for Ole Miss and Mississippi. Eagles paints a remarkable portrait of Meredith himself by describing his unusual family background, his personal values, and his service in the U.S. Air Force, all of which prepared him for his experience at Ole Miss.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

University of Mississippi historian Eagles turns a critical eye on his own university in this exhaustive and exhausting look at racism at Ole Miss. Although James Meredith, the school's first black student, figures prominently in the title, he takes center stage only in the book's second half, which examines the opposition to his historic 1962 enrollment. With painstaking research and detail, Eagles explores the university's history, from its founding in 1848 as an alternative to Northern universities, where students might be exposed to abolitionist ideas. Eagles also shows how the foundation for Meredith's enrollment was laid by earlier black applicants, who included Medgar Evers (turned down for the law school in 1954) and a pastor named Clennon King, also rejected and placed in a mental hospital for 12 days following a politically motivated "lunacy hearing" after his rejection. In chapters dense with material from court rulings and memoirs by the parties involved, Eagles traces the legal and political standoff before Meredith's first day on campus and the university's eventual confrontation, with the fatal riot that ensued. Photos. (Aug. 1)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Both Eagles (history, Univ. of Mississippi) and Lambert (history, Purdue Univ.) chronicle James Meredith's efforts to receive the best education available in his home state by attending the University of Mississippi, where blacks were barred by de facto segregation. After serving in the air force, Meredith returned home in 1961 to seek what many veterans did under the G.I. bill: an education ensuring greater opportunity and a realization of the American dream. As Meredith hoped, the federal government committed (if reluctantly) to a show of support for desegregation by sending the U.S. Army and federalizing the Mississippi National Guard to restrain rioters and allow Meredith to register. Although successful in his quest to earn a degree, Meredith was never able to have what many undergraduate students take for granted, to form friendships with other students or find joy in higher education, because he had to be guarded by marshals and military police. To appreciate Meredith's struggle, one must situate him in the culture of 1960s Mississippi, effectively re-created by Eagles, who details the university's segregated way of life regarding everything from sports to beauty pageants while also meticulously presenting the court proceedings. Lambert's treatment of these events is concise, well paced, and more compressed than Eagles's, and it affords readers a greater emotional distance—interestingly so, because Lambert was a student at Ole Miss at the time. VERDICT While both books are good at portraying Meredith's bravery, academics seeking details on the Deep South of this era will prefer Eagles's title, and those without the time or inclination to delve as far into the complexitiesof 1960s Southern higher education and culture will go for Lambert's. —Jim Hahn, Univ. of Illinois Lib., Urbana
From the Publisher
Eagles's work is extraordinarily well researched. . . . The resulting narrative provides an important picture for readers today of the ugliness and hypocrisy of segregation through one individual's valiant effort to end it.—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

While there have been previous studies of this period, Charles W. Eagles had access to previously unavailable federal and state records, and personal records.—Inside Higher Ed

The product of a prodigious scholarly effort. . . . Will no doubt be considered by many to be the definitive account of the Meredith story. . . . A work of enormous scholarship that fills in the details of a turning point in the civil rights movement.—Review of Politics

Never before has this tale of legal and physical skirmishing been told in such detail. . . . Thoroughly researched and clearly written.—American Historical Review

A suitably landmark volume for a deservedly landmark event in the civil rights movement.—Arkansas Review

Well-researched and thoroughly detailed, The Price of Defiance is a valuable study of one [of] the most influential episodes in American Civil Rights history….Well-written and engaging, this piece of modern biography is an accomplishment in the fields of Southern and Civil Rights history." —Southern Historian

Eagles places the events of the fall of 1962 in the context of the times. . . . His narrative description of the years leading up to 1960 should be required reading for every Mississippi high school senior. . . . Nuanced, fully researched, comprehensive, and written in a way that conveys the immediacy of the events.—Jackson Free Press

With painstaking research and detail, Eagles explores the university's history, from its founding in 1848 as an alternative to Northern universities, where students might be exposed to abolitionist ideas. . . . Traces the legal and political standoff before Meredith's first day on campus and the university's eventual confrontation, with the fatal riot that ensued.—Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807832738
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2009
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 584
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles W. Eagles has taught history at the University of Mississippi since 1983. His books include Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama and The Civil Rights Movement in America.

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Table of Contents



Part 1: Ole Miss and Race
1 "Welcome to Ole Miss, Where Everybody Speaks"
2 Following Community Mores: J. D. Williams and Postwar Race Relations
3 "I Love Colored People, but in Their Place": Segregation at Ole Miss
4 "Negroes Who Didn't Know Their Place": Early Attempts at Integration
5 Integration and Insanity: Clennon King in 1958
6 They Will "Want to Dance with Our Girls": Unwritten Rules and Rebel Athletics
7 "Mississippi Madness": Will Campbell and Religious Emphasis Week
8 Nemesis of the Southern Way of Life—Jim Silver
9 "On the Brink of Disaster": Defending States' Rights, Anticommunism, and Segregation
10 "Thought Control": The Editor and the Professor

Part 2: James Meredith
11 The Making of a Militant Conservative—J. H. Meredith
12 "I Regret to Inform You . . . "
13 Meredith v. Fair I: "Delay, Harassment, and Masterly Inactivity"
14 Meredith v. Fair II: A "Legal Jungle"
15 Negotiations: A Game of Checkers

Part 3: A Fortress of Segregation Falls
16 Initial Skirmishing: September 20-25, 1962
17 Confrontations: September 26-30, 1962
18 "A Maelstrom of Savagery and Hatred": The Riot
19 "Prisoner of War in a Strange Struggle": Meredith at Ole Miss
20 J. H. Meredith, Class of '63
21 "The Fight for Men's Minds"

Essay on Sources

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