Interview with Judge John Minor Wisdom
QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

LET'S COME INTO OUR PERIOD NOW WITH THE MEREDITH CASE. CAN YOU DESCRIBE FOR US YOUR REACTION TO THE LOWER COURT'S HANDLING OF THAT CASE WHEN IT FIRST CAME —

Judge John Minor Wisdom:

The Meredith was a very important case. Partly because it was symbolic. Mississippi was symbolic. More so, I think, than any other southern stated. Symbolic of southern resistance. And when Meredith first applied to be transferred from Jackson State to Ole Miss, it was quite evident that he was turned down for reasons that were not bona fide, for example, they questioned his — whether he was a psychiatric case, because he'd had some nervous trouble. I said, he's what you would expect of anyone trying to break the barriers at Ole Miss. He was a — a man with a mission, and a nervous stomach. And that was Meredith. Now the court, the district court handled that case just the way one would expect. The district judge, Sidney Myers, probably went to Ole Miss. All his friends went to Ole Miss or Mississippi State, and interested in Mississippi football. And he wasn't about going to admit Meredith on the merits, to — order Meredith admitted over to Mississippi. So he held that he had not been discriminated against. That they would — had had been denied admission for legitimate reasons. They questioned his, for example, his credits were questioned. Although some of his credits were from Wayne State. Now. Then, to give you another example, when the case came back to him on one occasion after an order from us to have it re-heard, he held that there was no policy of discrimination at the University of Mississippi. And I commented that this would come as a great surprise to every Mississippi alumnus that there was no — there was no segregation at the University of Mississippi. And it must have come as a surprise to everyone else, because only by telepathy could that though have been — been — become a school policy. Anyway, the district judge was, was, acted as district judges sometimes acted in the south. He yielded to pressure from the local community. And this is why we need federal judges, and this is why we need circuit court judges, who can be freer to act, than the district court judge. Now, not every district judge is a Frank Johnson.