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James Meredith Bails On Ole Miss Debate

There'll be something sorely missing from this Friday's historic presidential debate at the University of Mississippi. Despite an earnest invitation and high expectations, James Meredith won't be there.

Many a story has been written over the past week about the symbolism of Barack Obama, the first African-American presidential nominee of either major party, debating GOP nominee John McCain at Ole Miss, where Meredith, in 1962, became the first black student to enroll in the Deep South college amid angry, deadly protests. And many journalists undoubtedly were hoping to see Meredith in the audience at his alma mater's Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

James Meredith

James Meredith, the first black to enter the University of Mississippi, graduated on August 18, 1963 with a degree in political science.

But Meredith wants no part of it. "I'm not going to be there," Meredith told the Sleuth during a telephone interview late Tuesday afternoon. "My wife and son will be there. I'm taking care of the grandbabies."

That came as a surprise to Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat, who told the Sleuth earlier he had invited Meredith and believed he would be there.

Meredith, 75, said he's boycotting the debate because he doesn't want to be a distraction. "What anybody would be interested in with James Meredith at the debate is 50 years old," he said, referring to the bloody riots over his enrollment at Ole Miss 46 years ago that left two dead and hundreds of others injured.

The unconventional civil rights icon refused to say whether he's supporting Obama or McCain, or even whether he'll vote on Election Day. "I won't discuss that," he said, adding, "I'm supporting the poor and the responsibility of the rich to the poor."

Meredith did say, however, that he thinks race is "THE factor" in this year's presidential election.

"White supremacy is for real," he said, suggesting that various groups he identifies as white supremacists "got plans."

Surprisingly, Meredith ran as a Republican candidate for several public offices, including for Congress, in the 1970s and even worked briefly in the late 1980s for the late conservative North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms.

He wouldn't elaborate on what he thinks white supremacists might be up to in this election, nor did he give any clues about which way he's leaning. But Meredith cited a number of racially tinged hot spots in recent political history.

For example, he mentioned the infamous Willie Horton ads that helped sink Michael Dukakis's presidential candidacy in 1988 and asked, "Have you heard about what George Bush's people did to John McCain in 2000?"

Meredith was referring, at least in part, to the smear campaign against McCain during the South Carolina primary in which Bush operatives made an issue of McCain's adopted daughter Bridget's skin color. (You can read about it in this 2004 article by McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis titled "The anatomy of a smear campaign.")

The Ole Miss alumnus also mentioned McCain's family's ties to the Deep South. "McCain's grandfather was born and raised 20 miles from where I live," Meredith said, referring to McCain's maternal grandfather, Archie Wright. (Actually, McCain's great-great grandfather owned a plantation in Mississippi.)

And he declared, "The most important person in this election is Sean Hannity." As proof, he pointed to Fox News' seemingly endless coverage of the controversy over Obama's former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, during the Democratic presidential primary.

"I want to be able to change things after the election," Meredith told us.

But for anyone who wants to know what he's talking about, you'd better hold your breath. "I'm not going to talk about it until after Nov. 4."

By Mary Ann Akers  |  September 24, 2008; 7:05 AM ET
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Senator McCain's maternal grandfather Archie Wright was born in Mississippi and moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he made a fortune in selling oil leases (with interests in illegal gambling and booze, which led to a criminal conviction, as reported in the Washington Post) before moving his family to California, where Roberta Wright McCain grew up in Los Angeles. The Tulsa World had an article about Mr Wright in last Sunday's newspaper.

Posted by: Robert | September 24, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse

James Meredith paved the way for the present racial diversity at Ole Miss, but his mental status today is unpredictable at best. When the national media descends on Oxford today, they will find a gracious, fully integrated society where students and townspeople don't spend a lot of time or energy fighting battles that were won forty years ago. Yes, the fools that still call themselves "The Klan" will be in evidence, but they are no more a part of Mississippi's 2008 mainstream than anywhere else in the country. So give Meredith his due, but keep your eyes open for the real Mississippi. You'll be surprised.

Posted by: MCM | September 24, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

MCM - well said! Funny how the media knows so little about the progress we have made here in MS...and how hard both sides work to look forward, rather than backward. James Meredith is a hero...and is looking forward too. Vote the person, not the race.

Posted by: PCJ | September 24, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Rush Limbaugh Sean Hannity,hewitt Pewitt,
are the neo klansmen of today,right wing
zealots,who uses their constitution
rights to deny blacks,hispanics and women
their rights,and poorer whites.The framers
were right about the constitution,except
for the judicary,the have fail us there.
why and how can these modern klansman
continue to lie.spread falsehoods,and degrade,other american citzens,when the
victims have no voice to redress their
accuser's.why do the victims of hate
and smearare denied equal access to defend
themselves,unless the break the laws that
they defend.i say free speech be afforded
to everyone,and everyone has the right to bear arms and protect themselves, from
these bigot hate and war mongers.

Posted by: horny for hannity | September 24, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

PornTube: Best movies collection.

Posted by: mexsexporno | September 24, 2008 1:07 PM | Report abuse

So Mr. Meredith, please tell us... How does Sen. Helms like his shoes shined. You're speaking like a very confused "steppin' fetchit."

Posted by: isupreme | September 24, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

"Your headline is incorrect. It cannot be said that Meredith bailed" out because he wasn't "in" in the first place.

Posted by: Joe LaRocca | September 24, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

The blogger expresses suprise at Meredith being a Republican only because she is ignorant of history. Martin Luther King was a Republican. The Civil Rights Act was passed because of the support of Republican legislators over the opposition of southern Democrats. The Republicans, including Lincoln, were at the forefront of the abolitionist movement.

Posted by: Eric, Esq. | September 24, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for coverage. Probably not front page stuff, but most interesting, nonetheless to us folk "over 50" who remember Mr. Meredith.

Comments from Mississippians are welcome. Wonder what Bill Faulkner would have to say about Mr. Meredith and the whole scenario of the debates?

He did say something to the effect that The Past isn't over; that it isn't even Past...

Linking Limbaugh/Hannity, etc. to the Klan seems to echo this idea, even as life goes on differently in Oxford.

Posted by: Spectator | September 24, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

fr horny for hannity:

>Rush Limbaugh Sean Hannity,hewitt Pewitt,
are the neo klansmen of today,right wing
zealots,who uses their constitution
rights to deny blacks,hispanics and women
their rights,and poorer whites....

They also love slamming GLBT's and gay rights activists, whether they be gay or straight.

Posted by: Alex | September 24, 2008 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Joe LaRocca's comment that the use of "bails" in the headline is incorrect. Mr. Meredith offered the sensible explanation that he does not want to be a distraction.

Posted by: djohnson1946 | September 24, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: egrecal | September 24, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Thats quite true,Eric.Republicans used to be the Liberals " on the political scene, wanting reform, equality and so on.But somewhere along the way, if it was money, or religeous zealotry, the party lost its way.I'd say of late, its mainly the greed of Power, Control, And Wealth in this country that drives both parties, so its hard to discern apples from oranges.
Ipersonnaly feel the GOP has lost its way, in a real bad way.They have stepped on toes, used religion and fear to drive their politics of debauchery for way too long now. Its time for a change, And i dont think McCain has it in him,not for his age , but for lack of clarity of convictions over the years.He swayed with the wind on every issue down the pipe,usually siding with his party, but portraying himself as "different", or "Moderate".His seriously blatant lack of conviction is what scares me the most, will he make a decision, will he rush to judgement.And Palin, sweet as she comes off, aint all that.She has her stances, i respect her decision to bring her family up like she has and all, but the "Czar" of Alaska attitude doesnt wash well with me,, She's not Jellin!!!! Geronimo mom, happy hunter, whatever it is, its quaint, but not what this country needs as a leader, not with some of the extreme positions she has declared in the past.

Posted by: Mullett | September 25, 2008 1:52 AM | Report abuse

Mary Ann, a little more in-depth (and balanced) sleuthing would have discovered and mentioned John McCain's other and more relevant ties to the Deep South and specifically to Ole Miss. There is a building on the Ole Miss campus named McCain Hall. It was named for his grandfather who was a student at Ole Miss before he transferred to the Naval Academy. John McCain the first, who later of course became a famous Navy admiral, coincidentally married his former Ole Miss freshman English teacher. Also, Camp McCain is located about 50 miles or so south of Ole Miss. Camp McCain is a Mississippi National Guard training facility and named for John McCain's uncle who was a well-known Army general.

Just thought I would add this for anyone's interest.

Posted by: BobRich | September 25, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

This was a good read and James Meredith is a fascinating man. A couple of things though, he worked with Jesse Helms because, Helms was the only person in all of Congress that accepted his assistance or gave him access, even though after Ole Miss he had a law degree from Columbia.

Imagine that, what happened to all those Dems and "alleged good Libs" who support minorities and the poor. Not one returned this guy's call. He's not bitter he does not want to be a unpaid pawn for Ole Miss or either campaign.

Far as him being a Republican, it was the most progressive party for minorities for the longest time from Lincoln to Kennedy.

With more information and a better understanding of history perhaps most people would just be independents.

Posted by: kentdenero | September 25, 2008 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Why do liberal democrats constantly play the race card to impose socialism on America?. It is clear that the liberals want to use Ole Miss debate as a form to accuse republicans as racists if they don’t support Obama’s socialistic agenda’s.

Posted by: hudel | September 26, 2008 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Why do liberal democrats constantly play the race card to impose socialism on America?. It is clear that the liberals want to use Ole Miss debate as a form to accuse republicans as racists if they don’t support socialistic agenda’s.

Posted by: hudel | September 26, 2008 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Much admiration is due to an individual like Mr. Meredith who denies self in the interest of a larger purpose -- that is to have attention focused on where it should: the candidates. Oh the strength required to do what is right, just, and good vs. what is easy and popular and comfortable!

Posted by: backscatter | September 26, 2008 5:47 PM | Report abuse

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