- 25 Sep 08, 05:20 PM GMT
Barack Obama may have fight on his hands if he gets to take part in tomorrow's presidential debate at the University of Mississippi. But it won't be as fierce a battle as that faced by another man of colour in the same place a generation previously.
When James Meredith enrolled at "Ole Miss" on 1 October 1962, he was greeted by a violent mob, furious that he was the first black student to break the campus's colour bar.
Two people were killed and dozens injured in a confrontation that pitted the forces of President John F Kennedy's liberal administration in Washington against this segregationists' citadel of the Deep South.
Images of Meredith, flanked by US marshals as he faced the missiles and jeers of protesters, came to define the end of the Jim Crow era. As Obama prepares to walk the same route 46 years later, James was surely the man to reveal how far American race relations have come in such a short space of time.
Resplendent in his white suit, blessed with a rich, booming voice, James Meredith made it easy to understand where he found the chutzpah to make his stand against white supremacy all those years ago.
But as we stood outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi, it was clear that his defiance and bravery stemmed from the same idiosyncrasies that have kept him firmly apart from mainstream black politics.
You weren't to call him an African-American because he believed that to be "hyphenated" was to be a second-class citizen. You shouldn't refer to him a civil rights campaigner, because his battle extended further. The confrontation at Ole Miss wasn't a riot because governments don't riot. And so on.
Casting his mind back to the day he walked through the town of Oxford to attend Ole Miss for the first time, he said that he had succeeded thanks not to campaigners, but the US military.
Anticipating that Mississippi's police, under the authority of hardline governor Ross Barnett, would not enforce desegregation rulings, President Kennedy had ordered marshals and the National Guard to ensure that Meredith could show up safely.
"If I had not known that the president had already called up the military, and seen with my own eyes that they had been relocated, no way would I have ever went to the University of Mississippi," he said.
"There are a lot of political tricks that work sometimes. But the only thing that projects any people to the top spot is military conquest."
It was, he believed, a war between the federal government and that of Mississippi. As he made his way back then to the University's entrance, with violence erupting around him, had he not been afraid?
"Afraid that I might not accomplish my purpose," he asserted. "I'm still afraid of that."
When he eventually made it inside, the atmosphere was scarcely less poisonous. When he walked into a classroom, the other students walked out. He was taught amid a sea of empty chairs.
For a man of Meredith's character, however, this only heightened his self-belief.
"The teacher was there," he recalled. "They're not going to learn this superior information I'm going to learn. That put me ahead of them on the first day."
Perhaps he was right. Meredith graduated with a degree in political science and went on to qualify as a lawyer and work as a stockbroker.
After surviving an assassination attempt in 1966, however, he drifted further from the orthodoxy of the civil rights movement. He joined the Republican Party, made several attempts to enter congress and briefly worked for the ultra-conservative Senator Jesse Helms.
He wouldn't reveal who he was voting for in November. Still, he was keen to put Obama's nomination in context. It was "the same as the Dallas Cowboys having a black quarterback", he said.
"Obama has already done his job," he added. "He has placed the non-white in position forever to be a contender for power in America.
"My whole goal now is to shift the focus from race and colour to rich and poor.
"The real problem is that the rich are failing to carry out their obligations to the poor. That's what this crisis on Wall Street is about."
Just as in 1962, James Meredith was promising another one-man crusade.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites