JACKSON, Miss. — In honor of Black History Month, FOX13′s Family Focus is taking a moment to recognize the impact of contributions by African Americans in our community.
We sat down with James Meredith, 87, to talk about his “war” to desegregate the University of Mississippi and how George Floyd’s death is bringing it all back.
ALL MONTH LONG, FOX13 WILL BE CELEBRATING THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF AFRICAN AMERICANS. WE HAVE AN ENTIRE SECTION DEDICATED TO THEIR STORIES. CLICK HERE FOR MORE.
“To me, the most important thing that’s happened in my lifetime is the pandemic,” Meredith said. “It not only changed my world. It changed the entire world.”
We met with Meredith in a cold, vacant building in Jackson, Mississippi, in early December.
It’s been nearly 59 years since he faced down a violent mob to desegregate the University of Mississippi, and now, he’s about to embark on what he calls the “last of his three missions.”
The first was to desegregate Ole Miss.
In October 1962, Meredith arrived on campus flanked by nearly two dozen armed federal marshals.
Meredith recalls what went through his head during this time.
It took 30,000 troops and a deadly battle to get to class.
“Old JM never been accused of being stupid,” he said. “There ain’t no way I’d ever set foot on the campus of Ole Miss if I didn’t know the 101st Airborne and the 82nd had already been located in Memphis only 30 minutes away,” Meredith said.
Two people were killed and hundreds were injured in what some call the “Battle of Oxford.”
President John F. Kennedy invoked the Insurrection Act to mobilize nearly 30,000 troops to try to keep the peace in the bloody fight to give Black people the right to attend Mississippi’s flagship university.
“George Floyd brought it back,” Meredith said.
In 2020, Meredith watched with the rest of the world as an officer pinned George Floyd down with his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“George Floyd brought back to prominence to a high level...because most people living could only read about it: the lynchings, the burning at stakes,” he said.
The summer of 2020 was marked by protests, violence, and calls for defunding police and racial equality, followed by a massive move to register Black voters something Meredith took on in his second mission.
The “March Against Fear” started in Memphis in June 1966.
Meredith’s plans to register Black voters were met with threats and violence. He was shot by a sniper on the second day of the march, near Hernando, Miss.
“It was 40 years before I bothered to find out who shot me,” he said. “The most important thing to me was I was still living.”
Meredith contends he survived to “raise the moral character of Black Christians.”
“The most important issue in the world is the Black/white issue, and I believe it is the last of my three missions,” Meredith said.
That is why we met in a ramshackle building in downtown Jackson.
It is where Meredith plans to open a global Bible society and museum to help families “go back to God.”
As far as Ole Miss? He’s glad to see the Confederate statue removed from its prominent spot near the Lyceum.
He said it was blocking his view, referring to his own statue nearby.
“We’ve come a long way,” FOX13′s Valerie Calhoun said.
“I won’t go that far,” Meredith said.