James Meredith, born in 1933 in Kosciusko, Mississippi
, was a civil rights
"activist", for want of better word. Around the same time as the Little Rock Nine
, Meredith tried to apply for entry to the University of Mississippi
"). He was the first black
student to do so.
Being that Mississippi in the 1950s and early 60s was vehemently segregationst, to the extent that governor Ross Barnett openly announced in an address to a large crowd "I am a Mississippi segregationist, and I am proud of it.", Meredith had considerable difficulty in gaining entrance. Meredith mailed in his application to the university, and omitted the question about his race. He was granted admission, only to have it revoked as soon as the school discovered he was black. After appealing the decision in several district courts, the 5th U.S. circuit court of appeals ruled that Meredith had been illegally denied entrance based solely on his race, which was declared unconstitutional by the Brown v. Board of Education decision years earlier.
When Meredith made the trek to the Regent's Office in Jackson to re-register, governor Barnett personally blocked the doorway to the room, and read a pre-prepared statement about he was not breaking any laws in doing this, and how he was legally bound to protect Mississippi's "heritage". After several discussions with President John F. Kennedy, Barnett's hands were tied when the president ordered several US marshals to escort Meredith to the campus to enroll. As with the Little Rock Nine, riots broke out. White segregationists threw rocks and bricks at the marshals, while governor Barnett declared Mississippi "an occupied territory." Kennedy gave a brief speech, but his words were lost amongst the chaos taking place on the campus.
When all was said and done, over 30 marshals had been injured, and two students killed. The National Guard came to reinforce them, and Meredith was allowed to register for classes and attend the university. A more neutral and passive activist you will not find, though. Meredith was actually opposed to black radicalism as well as white racism. He even opposed making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday many years later. The truth was that Meredith simply wanted to study government, in his home state. He wasn't particularly angry or outraged over the university's segregationist policies, he simply resented their uncooperative and irrational attitude. He was always very cool and articulate when speaking to the media, when they would interview him.
He simply said that he had had the ambition to go to the university since he was quite young (he grew up in a rural town where he was recognized as being especially bright). He wanted to attend college in Mississippi, and the university was the only one that offered the classes he wanted to take. It was all logical and sensical to him, and he was even reluctant about suing the university for their actions, but he eventually did so because he did feel that it was unjust for them to impede the admission to which was perfectly and legally entitled.
Meredith wrote a book, called Three Years in Mississippi, about the experience had at the university. In his later life, he went into politics, as he had planned. He actually become a republican, and in 1989 accepted a position in the office of conservative North Carolina senator Jesse Helms. While he was ostracized by many black civil rights leaders for this, he remained unfazed in his belief that everyone deserves exactly the same rights, and there needn't be a fuss about it at all.