James Meredith’s March Against Racism

By Mike Espy

This weekend is the 54th anniversary of James Meredith’s “March Against Fear.” In June 1966, the Mississippi hero and civil rights icon started a solitary march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi.

He marched against racism, he marched against hate, and he marched to encourage Black voter registration.

When a sniper wounded James on the second day of his march, thousands of civil rights activists — including Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael — came to Mississippi to resume the March. Fortunately, James recovered and rejoined 15,000 marchers, arriving in Jackson on June 26. It was one of the biggest civil rights demonstrations our nation had seen.

We also know James Meredith as the first Black student to integrate the University of Mississippi. In 1961, James submitted his first application to the University of Mississippi, which was completely segregated at the time. His application was rejected twice.

James Meredith holds a newspaper in 1962 with the caption, “Meredith Off to Enroll; Barnett Action Blocked.” Photo Credit: Be
James Meredith holds a newspaper in 1962 with the caption, “Meredith Off to Enroll; Barnett Action Blocked.” Photo Credit: Be
James Meredith in 1962. Photo Credit: Bettmann/Corbis/AP

James, along with the NAACP and another Mississippi hero, Medgar Evers, legally challenged the university’s segregation policy. James was finally admitted to Ole Miss in 1962 — but not without hard-fought court proceedings and other painful events.

This includes the violent Ole Miss riot of 1962, in which white supremacists stormed the campus, looking to cause harm to James and other Black Mississippians. Hundreds of people were injured, and two civilians were killed.

James’ admission to Ole Miss is one of the most important events in the civil rights movement. Persisting through extreme, violent harassment as a political science student, James Meredith graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1963.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once referred to James in his “Letter From Birmingham Jail” as “a symbol of self-respect and dignity.”

James continues his work to this day. As we join Black Lives Matter Mississippi’s peaceful protest in Jackson, Mississippi today, I’ll be thinking about James Meredith and remembering his bravery in this constant struggle.

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