Freedom Rider James Zwerg: Solidarity in The Civil Rights Movement

James Zwerg (born Mar 25, 1940) is an American civil rights activist and college professor. He is best known for being the first white student to enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

Zwerg was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and raised in a working-class family. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he became involved in the civil rights movement. In 1962, Zwerg decided to transfer to the University of Mississippi, a historically all-white school in the Deep South. His enrollment was met with violent opposition from white segregationists, who rioted and attacked Zwerg and other Black students.

After Zwerg woke up, he said from his hospital bed, “Segregation must be stopped. It must be broken down. Those of us on the Freedom Rides will continue…. We’re dedicated to this, we’ll take hitting, we’ll take beating. We’re willing to accept death. But we’re going to keep coming.” 

Despite the violence, Zwerg persisted in his studies and eventually graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1963. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Zwerg has worked as a college professor and civil rights activist throughout his career. He has taught at Tougaloo College, Mississippi Valley State University, and Jackson State University. He has also worked with the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Zwerg’s story is a reminder of the courage and determination of the civil rights activists who fought for equality in the United States. He is an inspiration to all who work for justice and equality.

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