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"I think there's an excellent chance thate James Meredith will be shot before the year is out," William L. Higgs, Mississippi's only white civil rights lawyer and Meredith's first attorney in his fight for admission to the University of Mississppi, said last night.
Higgs, who was at the top of his own graduating class from Ole Miss, predicted that "if Meredith is shot, it will be one of the biggest international incidents of this century." But Higgs told his Liberal Union audience that Meredith's murder would lead to very strong legislative and executive action by the Federal government on civil rights.
Speaking in a thick Southern drawl, the 26-year-old attorney described his first meeting with Meredith in January of 1961. "I had just addressed a group at Jackson State College," a Negro institution. "A young man in a black leather jacket and a black leather cap stood up and asked me, 'How do we know you're not a traitor? How do we know you're not paid by the Citizens' Councils?'" The young man was James Meredith.
Higgs said his answer seemed to satisfy Meredith, and they became friends. That same night, Meredith told Higgs he had applied to Ole Miss, and Higgs agreed to help him.
A Harvard Law School graduate, Higgs estimated that "in a secret ballot, 80 or 90 per cent of the Ole Miss faculty would vote to admit Meredith and they'd be glad to have him." Higgs said that while most of the students were against Meredith's admission, they would prefer it to keeping him out at the cost of bloody riots or closing the university.
Higgs said it had become risker to express liberal civil rights views in Mississippi because of the tension surrounding the Meredith case, Groups conducting voter registration drives among Negroes, such as the Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee, are now biding their time until the tension abates, he added.
Turning to future prospects for Congressional action on civil rights, Higgs suggested that pro-integration Congressmen should refuse to seat Mississippi's Senators and Representatives until voting rights there are extended to Negroes. He said this strategy might be effective in curbing the enormous power of Southern Congressmen.
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