Civil Rights: Heat on Highway 51

Since his lonely ordeal in 1962 as the first Negro student at the University of Mississippi, frail, introverted James H. Meredith has felt a messianic call. In a recent book about his Ole Miss experiences, Meredith, now a Columbia University law student, maintains: "Whether it was true or not, I had always felt that I could stop a mob with the uplift of a hand. Because of my 'divine responsibility' to advance human civilization, I could not die."

Last week Meredith, 32, put his conviction to the test, though the effort seemed neither divinely inspired nor notably responsible. Striding out...