/Mississippians treasure the time they marched against fear

Mississippians treasure the time they marched against fear

James Meredith was the first black person to integrate the University of Mississippi on June 5, 1966. He wanted to show that a black man could confidently walk the Mississippi highways. Aubrey Norvell shot Meredith three times in Hernando on the second day. “I can remember seeing the news that civil rights leaders went to Meredith’s hospital in Memphis, and the press suggested that they would continue their walk,” Dr. Leslie B. McLemore says. He is a veteran of the Mississippi civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Floyd McKissick of Congress of Racial Equality, Stokely Carmichael of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and Roy Wilkins of NAACP, who represented the major civil rights organizations at that time, joined Mississippians to continue their march. If we were talking about a March Against Fear you would think that people would be afraid after Meredith’s shooting. However, I believe this was the impetus to people to continue the march for Meredith,” said Dr. Daphne Chamberlain assistant professor of history at Tougaloo College. Marchers were repeatedly threatened by Ku Klux Klan members throughout the 19-day journey. The march turned violent in Canton on June 23, 1966. King called Flonzie Brown Wright, a member at the time of CORE, and a civil rights activist from Canton. This was days before the marchers arrived. Brown-Wright recalls King telling him, “I was told that if you wanted me to do something in Canton, you would have to call me.” I was wondering if you could provide food for 3,000 people?” Churches and community businesses worked together to support the marchers. Brown-Wright personally escorted King through Canton and introduced him to the crowd at the rally, which took place on the steps in front of the city’s courthouse. Brown-Wright explains that marchers slept in houses, churches, gymnasiums or in their backyards. Some slept under rented circus tents. After the rally, the issue was about pitching a tent at an elementary school. Carmichael gave a speech, which validated the expression “black power”, created by Willie Ricks of Greenwood. Highway patrolmen and city officers then rushed the crowd with tear gas and riot guns. Brown-Wright says, “We were already familiar with violence. But, because there was so much people at the Canton rally that night, the atmosphere magnified tear gassing.” Brown-Wright says, “But once the vision of why this movement was necessary for us, nothing including teargassing, beatings and shootings was going to stop our participation.” Meredith says, “God blessed me to acknowledge that he is his prophet and chosen for his message to his chosen ones.” Meredith joined other marchers across the country on the last stage, from Canton to Jackson. He completed the journey that he began as one man. On the night before the march to Capitol, thousands gathered on the Tougaloo College lawn with stars Burt Lancaster and Lorne green and James Brown who ravaged the crowd with their song I’m Black & I’m Proud. The international civil rights movement gained a new dimension when the media reported Carmichael using the phrase “black power” in Canton. Black power would soon be defined in popular music, hairstyles and clothing all over the globe. Chamberlain used the phrase to call on black people to have a sense pride and courage in order for them change the state’s political climate. An estimated 95% of Mississippi’s black residents were not registered to vote in 1960. Later, the Department of Justice estimated that between 2,500 to 3,000 black Mississippians had registered to vote in response to the March Against Fear. According to civil rights activists, as many as 4,000 people were registered. It was a joyous time. Brown-Wright says that we celebrated the seven miles it took to get from the Delta to the Capitol. “None of our forefathers knew that we were making history. It was impossible for our forefathers to do it. Because of her vow to King during the March Against Fear, Brown-Wright is continuing her activism. Meredith’s goal is still relevant fifty years later. McLemore says that it is remarkable that Meredith is still alive today and continues to push for inter-generational dialog and human rights.