On 1 October, 1962 James Meredith enrolled as the first African American student at the segregated University of Mississippi.
White students and anti-desegregation supporters protested against his enrolment by rioting on the Oxford campus.
US marshalls were brought in to protect the 28-year-old as he went to class. President John F Kennedy also sent members of the National Guard to restore order.
It is regarded as an iconic moment in the US civil rights history, but Mr Meredith has always felt uncomfortable being labelled as part of that movement.
In an interview with the British writer and director Sol B River for the BBC's Newsnight programme, Mr Meredith explains why race remains the crucial issue in America and why he still feels "at war against a system of white supremacy".
Watch James Meredith's interview in the video below: