Black History Month: Civil Rights Figure Visits Huntsville

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)-- The year was 1962. James Meredith was the first African-American student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi. It is an event that was a flash point in the American civil rights movement.

Meredith at The University of Mississippi, 1962

Meredith was in Huntsville Tuesday to serve as keynote speaker for a black history month program at Drake State University.

Attendees had the opportunity to take home much more than an autographed copy of Meredith’s book, A Mission From God.

"Every time for fifty years when somebody said to me 'thank you for what you did',” recalls Meredith, “my first flash thought in my mind is I didn't do nothing--it was God who did it."

Despite his humility James Meredith is a celebrated civil rights figure--literally and figuratively. Meredith's statue still stands on the Ole Miss campus.

Drake State students and community members celebrated Meredith and rushed to buy his memoir. One of those who picked up a copy also has quite a connection to the activist turned writer—U.S. Army 82nd Airborne retired Lee Gradford:

"It was October of 1962 when about a thousand of us were sent there to help him enter the University of Mississippi."

Gradford says he has followed Meredith's endeavours ever since.

"He has been on this highway for justice and equality for over fifty years now."

Gradford says he believes Meredith's message carried great weight with the audience of young African-American students Monday.

"I think it's important that we understand what it is we need to do to continue to improve upon our country, our state, our city and ourselves."

Gradford says he whole-heartedly agrees the future of race relations is no longer about victimization but accountability.

"This country was built on individualism and I think individual responsibility must be taken seriously by all."