We are searching data for your request:
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.
James Meredith on What Today's Activism Is Missing
F ifty years ago Monday, James Meredith was shot and wounded on the second day into his attempt to walk from the Peabody Hotel in Memphis to Jackson, Miss.
At the time, he was a 33-year-old Columbia Law School student with only a Bible in hand. He was already famous within the Civil Rights Movement as the man who won the right, via the Supreme Court, to be the first black man to attend the all-white University of Mississippi. His aim now was to encourage African-Americans to walk with dignity in a region where that had long been difficult and to register to vote without “fear of terror of abuse by either officials or unofficial people,” as the now-83-year-old recently recalled, speaking to TIME by phone.
“What I had set out to do happened in the first place I came to,” he said. “When I walked up to the square in Hernando, [Miss.,] not a black could be seen, only whites. But on the backside of the courthouse, there was just about every black in that county of Mississippi, ready for change in their lives.”
Shortly after the visit, however, a hardware store clerk named Aubrey Norvell drove by and shot him along Highway 51, just south of the town.
The Civil Rights Movement’s most prominent figures&mdashranging from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Stokely Carmichael, whom TIME called “the most militant of all civil rights leaders”&mdashswooped in to finish to trek for him, what became known as the “March Against Fear.” It is said to have grown to as many as 15,000 people once it reached Jackson on June 26, 1966. By the end, between 2,500-4,000 African Americans were said to have been added to state’s voting lists, according to some counts.
Looking back, Meredith, considers the effort a “total success” in terms of the goal to “change the whole direction” of the movement. Still, the coming of organized (and competing) Civil Rights groups did change the concept of what had started out as a solitary action. “‘Blacks were too scared to do anything, but they came out to greet James Meredith’: That would have been the story in the evening news if I hadn’t gotten myself shot,” he said. “But I got shot and that allowed the movement protest thing to take over then and do their thing.”
But that’s not to say he doesn’t have anything to say about protest movements. Looking at the activism of the modern heirs to the 1960s Civil Rights protesters, he said that he believes that the black community is even less cohesive than it was back then, as the most successful black Americans, in his view, have turned away from those who have less. Nowadays, he worries that African-Americans are “scared to death mostly of each other”:
What I have seen since Ferguson is what everyone knows and no one talks about. The black elite used to be in the same physical setting as all the other blacks. So whatever benefits they had, the other people enjoyed. Today, the blacks who have been able to benefit from improvements that have been available over the 50-60 years don&rsquot even see&mdashmuch less know&mdashthe poor, unconnected blacks… the people who have been suffering. The elite blacks doing the talking on TV wouldn&rsquot go near Ferguson. They&rsquore powerless to do anything, except try to keep their jobs.
He believes the two sides could be brought closer together through more mentorship programs, and that the church&mdashespecially in a place like Mississippi&mdashis the right vehicle for such a program.
And so, as part of the 50th anniversary of the March Against Fear, he’s heading back on the road, spreading the word about his mentorship idea in speeches he’ll give across Mississippi. He has done a number of symbolic walks over the years, and his latest will take place on June 11, when he’s expected to walk from the Peabody Hotel to the National Civil Rights Museum, at the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Along the way, he hopes to remind people of what came before.
“At least 90% of blacks in Mississippi never heard of James Meredith, much less the Meredith march. By the end of the summer that&rsquos going to be reversed,” he said. “I only made it to one black community in 1966. All the rest of the communities in Mississippi still got to be gotten to.”
Early Life and Education
James Meredith was born on June 25, 1933, in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to Roxie (Patterson) and Moses Meredith. He completed 11th grade at Attala County, Mississippi Training School, which was racially segregated under the state's Jim Crow laws. In 1951, he finished high school at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, Florida. Days after graduating, Meredith joined the U.S. Air Force, serving from 1951 through 1960.
After honorably separating from the Air Force, Meredith attended and excelled at historically Black Jackson State College until 1962. He then decided to apply to the strictly segregated University of Mississippi, stating at the time, “I am familiar with the probable difficulties involved in such a move as I am undertaking and I am fully prepared to pursue it all the way to a degree from the University of Mississippi.”
Streams into a river
The Black freedom struggle has long encompassed people of different ideologies and tactics. Like streams feeding into a river, these political approaches come from distinct sources, but inevitably move in the same direction. In the 1960s, this movement surged forward, in part thanks to Meredith.
He is a complex person – one who might never be fully understood. That’s an important reminder: A movement depends on individual people making individual choices to act in individually specific ways, all in service of a collective goal.
The United States is again undergoing a racial reckoning, and again the nation is divided over its direction. It is, moreover, a dangerous moment for democracy. A sizable portion of the electorate believes in conspiracy theories about stolen elections.
In this polarized atmosphere, what can a productive social movement look like?
It has to respect the idealism of the forces demanding change but still speak to broadly shared democratic principles. A powerful movement makes room for contributors who don’t fit neatly into that movement. Sometimes, as in the case of James Meredith, their significance is extraordinary.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
In 1956, Meredith married Mary June Wiggins while serving in the U.S. military. They would have three sons before Mary died in 1979. The following year, Meredith married Judy Alsobrooks, with whom he has one son and a daughter. They live in Jackson, Mississippi.
In recent years, Meredith has continued to be active in civil rights and education issues, particularly through his nonprofit organization, the Meredith Institute. He has also authored several books, including the children&aposs book Will Wadsworth&aposs Train to Nowhere (2010) and the memoir A Mission from God (2012).
James Meredith was to make his name in civil rights history by being the first African-American to attend the University of Mississippi. James Meredith, by simply doing this, was putting his life on the line.
Meredith was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on June 25th, 1933. From 1951 to 1960 he served in the American Air Force. After this, Meredith studied at Jackson State College for two years. Following this, he applied to start a course at the University of Mississippi. He was rejected twice. Meredith filed a complaint with the courts that he had been rejected by the university simply because he was black. His complaint was rejected by a district court, but on appeal, the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court supported him and ruled against the district court stating that the University of Mississippi was indeed maintaining a policy of segregation in its admissions policy.
The issue did not end there – if anything, the whole controversy was inflamed still further when state officials and students at the university voiced their opposition to Meredith being given a place there. Threats were made against Meredith and Robert Kennedy, the Attorney-General, sent federal marshals to protect Meredith. Riots followed and 160 marshals were wounded (28 by gun shots) and 2 bystanders were killed on the Oxford campus.
Regardless of this, Meredith attended the university and graduated in 1964. However, being the focal point of such racism seemed to ignite a passion in Meredith. In March 1966, he started his ‘March Against Fear’ from Memphis to Jackson to protest against racism – especially the violence many African-Americans faced when attempting to register to vote. Shortly into his march, Meredith was shot and was hospitalised. However, his place on the march was taken by such figures in the civil rights movement as Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael who determined to finish the march on Meredith’s behalf.
Meredith rejoined the march on June 25th, 1966 after his hospital treatment. On the following day they reached their target – Jackson in Mississippi.
After this, James Meredith continued his further education at the University of Ibadan (from 1964 to 1965) in Nigeria and at Columbia University (from 1966 to 1968). He gained A LL.B from Columbia University. By the end of the 1960’s, Meredith became a stockbroker and effectively stopped being a civil rights activist. He joined the Republican Party and attacked white liberals for being the ‘greatest enemy’ of African Americans. James even opposed making the birthday of Martin Luther King a national holiday in America. In March 1997, James Meredith presented his papers to the University of Mississippi.
58 years ago, James Meredith broke the color barrier at Ole Miss. Here’s how the Air Force and Army shaped that battle
James Meredith, center, is escorted by federal marshals as he appears for his first day of class at the previously all-white University of Mississippi, in Oxford Oct. 1, 1962. The Air Force veteran's battle to gain admission into Ole Miss forced President John F. Kennedy to send federal troops into the state to quell a white supremacy uprising. It was one of the most violent moments of the Civil Rights Movement and it forever changed life in the American Deep South. (AP Photo, File) ( AP )
On Oct. 1, 1962, a 29-year-old Black student and activist named James Meredith, flanked by federal marshals, stepped onto the campus of the University of Mississippi. He walked a gauntlet of racial slurs and taunts hurled by angry crowds, and became the first Black person to register for classes at the school, striking a blow against racial segregation.
But Meredith’s path toward breaking that color barrier started more than a decade earlier — when he first put on Air Force blues.
Meredith was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, in 1933, one of 10 children. He joined the Air Force in 1951 right out of high school and attended basic training at the now-shuttered Sampson Air Force Base in New York.
In his 2012 memoir, “A Mission from God,” Meredith wrote that he joined the Air Force because it had a reputation for treating Black troops as full American citizens. But the Air Force was also where his resolve to fight for equality truly took form.
Meredith wrote that his nine years in the Air Force were valuable ones, during which he first attended college, met his wife and saw different parts of the country. He spent his last three years in uniform, from 1957 to 1960, at Tachikawa Air Base near Tokyo, Japan, which he said changed his life. The base was “where I became a man,” he said.
During his Air Force years, especially while in Japan, Meredith said he “began to first lay the plans for an assault on white supremacy in Mississippi.”
“It was in Japan that I got to fully realize that white supremacy and the inferior position of blacks in America was a man-made construct, not a natural construct,” Meredith wrote. “I never felt inferior as a human being in Japan. … It was an entirely different universe, a nonwhite, thousand-year-old civilization where I was treated with respect and equality.”
But Black GIs “dreaded” returning home, Meredith wrote, where they would face segregation and humiliation on a regular basis.
“I had been in the military for the purpose of defending the freedom and democracy of my nation, preserving something that I knew I didn’t enjoy and my kind didn’t enjoy,” Meredith wrote.
One day while on a walk in the Japanese countryside, he encountered a young boy who was amazed Meredith was from the South, he wrote. "He had heard [it] was a terrible place for black people.”
“I in turn was shocked by his awareness of the distorted racial equilibrium in the United States, and stunned that a little Japanese boy could be so familiar with the stories of the Little Rock Nine and Emmitt Till,” Meredith wrote. “I felt ashamed by it, by the stain and disgrace white supremacy cast on my country and on me personally, and almost in that moment I resolved to return to Mississippi to change things for the better.”
“I knew then that I had to leave the Air Force, come back to Mississippi, and go to war.”
Stop everything, and watch the likely next Air Force chief of staff’s powerful statement on race
“I’m thinking about how full I am with emotion, not just for George Floyd, but the many African Americans that have suffered the same fate as George Floyd," Gen. CQ Brown began in his heartfelt video.
After leaving the Air Force in 1960, Meredith did go back to Mississippi. He began studying political science and history at an all-Black school, Jackson State College. But Meredith wanted to transfer to Ole Miss.
In his memoir, Meredith said he chose Ole Miss because he knew that if he successfully enrolled there, it would fracture the system of segregation in Mississippi and “drive a stake through the heart of the beast.”
If, that is, he “managed to not get killed or chased off.” But, he said, under the conditions Black people had to endure in Mississippi, he was already “a dead man.”
But they weren’t going to let him in.
In 1961, Meredith enlisted the help of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund and filed a lawsuit against Ole Miss, alleging racial discrimination. The case quickly made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Meredith’s favor in September 1962.
But his fight was not yet won. Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett vowed to defy the Supreme Court decision, provoking a constitutional crisis between the state and federal governments. When Meredith arrived at the school’s Oxford, Mississippi, campus under the protection U.S. marshals, a mob of more than 2,000 students and others blocked their path.
A riot ensued that killed two people and injured many more.
President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, ordered federal troops to stop the riots and ensure Meredith’s safety, and ordered the governor to allow Meredith to enroll.
The federal forces, 30,000 strong, included the National Guard and active-duty troops, including 150 Army military police from Fort Hood, Texas. They escorted Meredith to class, searched vehicles, and provided other security measures.
He graduated a year later, alongside his white classmates, and received a bachelor of arts in political science. He continued fighting for civil rights, at great personal risk. In June 1966, he began a solitary walk from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to highlight racism and voter suppression in the South. But soon after he began his walk, he was shot and wounded by a white gunman. Major civil rights organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference rallied and continued the march in Meredith’s place.
In 2016, Meredith traveled to Fort Hood for a Black History Month event at which his contributions to the civil rights movement were honored, according to an Army release. During that ceremony, Meredith for the first time met three soldiers who were deployed from Fort Hood as part of Operation Ole Miss and helped ensure his safety.
The three soldiers, then Cpl. Robert Taylor, Spc. George Lewis and Pfc. Gary Hackbarth, were part of Fort Hood’s 720th Military Police Battalion, 4th Army. At the ceremony, they reflected on the historic events of 1962 and expressed their gratitude for being able to finally meet Meredith. Taylor, for example, pulled security at the edge of campus and never saw Meredith at the time.
“I’m so happy I lived to see it,” Meredith said of meeting the soldiers who helped protect him.
In the release, Meredith said he knew that before he could attend the school he wanted, “the system would have to be broken.”
“What I did at Ole Miss had nothing to do with going to classes,” Meredith said at Fort Hood. “My objective was to destroy the system of white supremacy.”
But he had powerful allies on his side, he said.
“I knew the only way to beat Mississippi was with the United States military,” said Meredith. “I had not just the United States Army fighting my war against Mississippi, but President Kennedy sent in the best of the United States Army.”
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.
Meredith, who soon turns 88, remains a familiar figure around Jackson. He is one of the elderly regulars at a supermarket&rsquos coffee klatch. He often dons his trademark white suit and a &ldquoNew Miss&rdquo ballcap. Prone to grandiose or quirky statements, he still possesses a certain charisma, informed by his mystical sense of his own God-ordained destiny.
I first encountered Meredith&rsquos paradoxical personality in 2009, during an interview for &ldquoDown to the Crossroads,&rdquo my narrative history of the Meredith March Against Fear. Since then, I&rsquove kept wrestling with Meredith&rsquos significance &ndash I wrote the introduction to his reissued memoir &ldquoThree Years in Mississippi,&rdquo and I&rsquom now collaborating on a graphic history about Meredith and the integration crisis at &ldquoOle Miss.&rdquo
Other major figures from the March Against Fear have clear-cut legacies. Martin Luther King Jr. is the moral beacon of a nonviolent movement. Stokely Carmichael, who called for &ldquoBlack Power&rdquo on the march, is a radical icon. Fannie Lou Hamer represents the central role of Black women in the grassroots freedom struggle.
But Meredith? After the march, he faded from view. He did not join any of the major civil rights organizations. His multiple runs for office failed, as did numerous business ventures. By the late 1980s, he seemed to court shock value: He worked for archconservative North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, and then endorsed Louisiana politician David Duke, a former grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan.
Civil rights pioneer James Meredith, center, and others walk through downtown Jackson, Mississippi, to the state Capitol on June 25, 2016, as part of a commemoration of his 1966 march from Memphis to Jackson. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
Yet Meredith also remains a symbol of pride: His statue on the University of Mississippi campus is a rallying symbol for Black students &ndash and also has been a target of racist defacement. Black Mississippians often recognize his heroism.
Meredith is difficult to categorize or claim.
Those on the political right tend to showcase the rare Black conservative, but Meredith is a vocal critic of American racism, which most conservatives seek to downplay.
Radicals share his goal of destroying white supremacy, but an old man who preaches old-fashioned morality does not conform to the modern model of an activist.
Classification 44 (Civil Rights) Headquarters Case Files National Archives Identifier 2329984
44-19767, Mississippi (1962) James Meredith (NAID 7625652)
44-33390-13, Mississippi (1966) Photos of Meredith March and Memorial Ceremonies for 3 Civil Rights workers M.L. King, Jr., James H. Meredith, Stokely Carmichael (NAID 7639704)
44-33292, Section 1 Serials 1-22, Mississippi (1966) Memorial ceremonies for three slain civil rights workers, Philadelphia M.L. King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Floyd McKissick, Sokely Carmichael, James H. Meredith, Dick Gregory, James Letherer, Dep. Sheriff (NAID 7639603)
44-33125, Section 1 Serials 1-78, Mississippi (1966) Shooting of James Howard Meredith, "March Against Fear," M.L. King, Jr., Aubrey James Norvell, Dick Gregory, Stokely Carmichael, Floyd McKissick, Vernon Jordan, Charles Evers, Marion Barry, Maxine Smith (NAID 7639428)
44-33125, Section 4 Serials 108-124, Mississippi (1966) Photos of "March Against Fear" and of shooting of Meredith (NAID 7639431)
Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Headquarters Case Files National Archives Identifier 4795307
FBI Headquarters: 157-HQ-7782 v. 1 Rabble Rouser Index (NAID 6740971) digitized
This page was last reviewed on May 27, 2020.
Contact us with questions or comments.
James Meredith Shot - History
On June 5, 1966, equipped with only a helmet and walking stick, James Meredith began a 220-mile March Against Fear from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi. Mr. Meredith, an activist who had integrated the University of Mississippi four years earlier, organized the one-man march to encourage African Americans in Mississippi to register to vote and to challenge the culture of fear perpetuated by white supremacists in the state.
Mr. Meredith crossed the Mississippi border on the morning of June 6, 1966, accompanied by a handful of friends and supporters. State police and FBI agents monitored the march while reporters and photographers trailed behind. A few miles south of Hernando, Mississippi, Aubrey Norvell, a white salesman, ambushed Mr. Meredith from the woods and shot him in the neck, head, and back. Before he started shooting, Mr. Norvell warned bystanders to disperse and twice shouted out Mr. Meredith’s name from the woods, but law enforcement did nothing to protect Mr. Meredith.
James Meredith survived his injuries but was unable to immediately continue the march. Enraged by the attack, civil rights leaders organized to continue the march to Jackson in his place. On June 26th, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and Floyd McKissick were among the thousands of marchers who completed the trip to Jackson, Mississippi, having weathered harassment and physical abuse from angry mobs and law enforcement alike. Mr. Meredith rejoined the march shortly before its completion in Jackson and led a rally at the state capitol. In November 1966, Aubrey Norvell pleaded guilty to assault and battery and was sentenced to two years in prison.
“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar. America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans. The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood. EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.