James Meredith and his March Against Fear
NDC staffer Jamie White provided this post about his latest find:
I recently reviewed a Department of Justice project (Class 130/145 Secret Enclosures, NND 66350) which covered a portion of the civil rights movement from 1968 and part of 1969. The collection covers the Poor Peoples campaign containing movements, surveillance, informant statements and bios on high ranking members such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and Floyd McKissick. The project contains handwritten letters to both the President and Attorney General from people opposing the March on Washington, handwritten letters from African Americans pledging for help in the south, and memorandums from government officials pertinent to the March. It also contains the actual FBI case files and courtroom transcripts from the James Meredith’ attempted murder investigation and shooter James Aubrey Norvell’s trial. Reviewing these records in conjunction with Black History Month prompted me to write a short blog on some of Meredith’s accomplishments including his near death experience on June 6, 1966.
James Howard Meredith (born June 25, 1933) was an Air Force veteran, American civil rights movement figure, writer, and political adviser. He is best known as the first African-American student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi in 1962, sparking a violent clash, in which two people died, and 160 U.S. Marshals, and 40 National guardsmen were wounded. This is regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in the United States. Meredith graduated on August 18, 1963, with a degree in political science. He continued his education, focusing on political science at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria returning to the United States in 1965, where he attended law school through a scholarship at Columbia University and earned a law degree.
Four years after the integration of “Ole Miss,” Meredith launched his “March Against Fear” campaign. On June 6, 1966, Meredith set out from Memphis with an African walking stick in one hand, a Bible in the other, and a singular mission in mind. He planned to march alone, 220 miles to the Mississippi state capital of Jackson, to prove that an African American man could walk free in the South. The Voting Rights Act passed only a year earlier, and his goal was to inspire African Americans to register and go to the polls.
On the second day of the March just outside Hernando, Mississippi on Highway 51, Aubrey James Norvell shouted, “I just want James Meredith!” Shotgun blasts rang out across the highway, striking Meredith in the head, neck, back, and leg. Suddenly, one man’s crusade garnered much attention from larger civil rights organizations. After visiting Meredith at the hospital, Dr. King, CORE’s Floyd McKissick, and SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael, elected to continue the March in his absence, helping to register thousands of African American voters along the way. It would be twenty days before Meredith was able to rejoin the March, which ended on Sunday, June 26, twenty-one days after Meredith began the journey. Norvell pled guilty to the shooting, and was sentenced to five years in prison (three of which were suspended). Meredith is now 80 years old and currently resides in Jackson, Mississippi.