James Meredith and other participants in 1966’s March Against Fear led the way through downtown Jackson Sunday for people walking from the Smith Robertson Museum to the State Capitol to commemorate a significant journey in Mississippi’s civil rights campaign.
“Fifty years ago, I stood on these same steps bringing greetings to those thousands and thousands who assembled for our cause. My friend, Mr. Meredith, believed he could make a difference and he did,” said civil rights veteran Flonzie Brown-Wright.
Many of those marchers have since died, but a few came to the Capitol to remember the march that Meredith began as a solitary effort but grew to attract national leaders of the civil rights movement and their supporters. Along the way, they registered thousands of blacks to vote.
“In 1966, we were in a state of rebellion against the state of Mississippi and the South. Today, I am just surprised at the calm,” said Dorie Ladner, another civil rights veteran.
“Today our theme is ‘The Walk for Good and Right.’ Meredith asks that we now go forward, focusing on what black people can do and must do to improve our own conditions,” said James Harris of the James Meredith Institute for Citizenship and Responsible Action.
On June 5, 1966, Meredith, the first black to integrate the University of Mississippi, sought to prove that a black man could fearlessly walk the highways of Mississippi. On the second day, he was shot and hospitalized. Then national and state leaders of the civil rights movement resumed what Meredith started. Meredith joined the march from Canton to Tougaloo College and the final stage to the steps of the Capitol.
Hollis Watkins sang, “Freedom come and it won’t be long,” a take-off on Harry Belafonte’s 1956 traditional Jamaican folk song Day-O, moments before Meredith spoke Sunday.
“God authorized me to say only these seven things,” Meredith said.
“Number one, God’s message for our time.
“Number two, what blacks in Mississippi can do for themselves.
“Number three, every black community in Mississippi should create a new focus on good and right.
“Number four, we should train up our children in the way they should go.
“Number five, teach every child the 10 commandments and the golden rule by age five.
“Number six, the most important people in Mississippi are black women over 30 years old.
“Number seven, they should all become godmothers,” said Meredith.
Vijay Shah, from Cleveland, Ohio, participated in this month’s commemoration events.
“Walking in the footsteps of our pioneers of the civil rights movement. Today is the culmination of all those,” Shah said. “Back then they were just young people like us, and now they’re in their 60s and 70s and they’re grandparents. Thinking about that makes you think of where you are in life and where they were. Makes you want to give props to them and do everything you can to keep it going.”