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Staff Sergeant James Meredith Desegregation in the Air Force

The desegregation of the Air Force was the most significant thing since the Constitution of the United States which claim[s] that all men should be equal. Nothing has done as much as the desegregation of the Air Force to make that a reality.” - Dr. James Meredith

Despite President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981 ending segregation in the Armed Services in 1948, it remained on military bases and throughout the United States. With few jobs open to Black Airmen, Meredith spent his entire nine years in the Air Force serving as a clerk-typist.

Staff Sergeant Meredith experienced extreme racism throughout his career. He was one of the first Black Airmen to serve in an all-White squadron and sometimes the only Black Airman in the unit. At his first base, Meredith’s fellow Airmen moved out of the dormitory because he was Black. As a sergeant, a subordinate was dishonorably discharged because he didn’t want to serve under a Black man.

Even though Meredith was confronted with racism in the US Air Force, he credits his time in the military with providing him the foundation to fight for equal rights in the United States. After leaving active duty in 1961, SSgt Meredith became the first Black man to attend the University of Mississippi in 1962. He later earned a law degree from Columbia Law School.

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