BLOOMINGTON, Indiana, Aug. 20--James Meredith today asked the delegates to the fifteenth National Student Association Congress to inaugurate a campaign to help underpriveliged students get an adequate education.
At the same time, Meredith announced he would devote most of his own energies in the next nine months to establishing a fund to provide scholarships for needy Negro students. The fund would also give long term loans, explore the professional needs of Southern states, improve guidance programs, and provide information on all existing educational aid programs.
Meredith, who graduated last week from the University of Mississippi, addressed a special plenary session of the Congress meeting here at the University of Indiana. He also spoke to a seminar on civil rights this morning.
Meredith noted the average Southern Negro "does not get a chance to prepare for college work," and said his fund would also aid students seeking better preparatory education. He added that "not more than a dozen Negroes" graduated by Mississippi high schools this year could "qualify for a first class university."
Meredith was introduced to the large gathering by NSA President Dennis Shaul, who said Meredith "walked with dignity in an exceedingly difficult time." The first Negro ever to enter Ole Miss received a standing ovation, and began "I am somewhat shaken by the enthusiasm of my reception."
He went on to commend the work of NSA, and various civil rights activities, saying "I have the highest regard and respect" for the Association. Meredith noted that he had been a classmate and close friend at Jackson State College of Walter Williams, who last year ran NSA's civil rights desk. Williams was expelled from Jackson State for leading a sit-in demonstration.
Meredith professed an optimistic attitude for the future of the racial crisis, "which the government has recognized as the number one problem in the country." "In 20 years, Mississippi could be a beautiful place to live," he said.
Today marked the final day of seminars for the more than five hundred Congress delegates who arrived Sunday for a two week stay. Tomorrow the Students will meet in sub-committee sessions, which will begin drafting legislation to be debated on the Congress floor next week.
Thus far the Congress has been absorbed by a series of proposals for structural changes in the Association made to the National Executive Committee at their meeting last week. The NEC will meet again tomorrow evening to make final recommendations on the various constitutional revisions now being discussed. The Congress will make a final decision on the changes later this week.
One major proposal would eliminate the NEC, which now includes 35 representatives from the Association's 22 regions, and replace it with a ten-member National Supervisory Board. It is felt that a smaller body with greater expertise than the present NEC would more effectively oversee the operations of the National Staff. The NEC might be retained in some form to conduct local programs, but if the present amendment is passed, it will be stripped of all real power.
The second principal area of concern is NSA's regional structure, a patchwork affair which includes New England and the state of Utah as individual regions. One proposal would replace the regions with four large areas, each one to be administered by a full-time vice-president living in the area. Presently the Association has two Program vice-presidents who operate from Philadelphia and Los Angeles. They have been expected to aid member schools in devising programs, but have generally found the task far too extensive.
The second proposal, which has the backing of the Harvard delegation and most of the New England delegates, would preserve the current regional structure. It would eliminate the Program vice-presidents and replace them with a number of experts who would head special desks in the national office. The desks would most likely be civil rights, higher education, community relations, and a general Southern desk, to deal with both civil rights and education in that area.
Advocates of this plan say that regional officers, with the support of the desk heads, would be able to conduct valuable programs for the member schools. The desk heads and the national officers would do more traveling to member schools than is now done.
The structural issue has aroused heated feeling among the delegates and split the national staff into several factions. Observers consider it a good possibility that neither plan will receive the two-thirds vote required to adopt constitutional amendments. In that case, the Association will continue to be saddled with the present inefficient set-up.
After the NEC meets tomorrow, the proposed amendments will be read to the Congress Thursday. Twenty-four hours later, floor debate will be in order