How James Meredith Was Shot By A White Snipper For His “March Against Fear” In Protest Of Racial Violence In 1966

James Meredith, a civil rights leader, organized the “March Against Fear” on June 5, 1966. He had enrolled at the University of Mississippi in 1962, four years earlier, being the first African American student to do so.

Meredith chose to take a 21-day lone march from the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, to the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, a total distance of 270 miles, to protest racial violence in his home state. He anticipated that the march would encourage African Americans in Mississippi to learn about politics and register to vote.

Meredith decided to walk without the backing of other civil rights activists or protection from the local police or the US Justice Department, despite Mississippi’s history of violence against African Americans in general and civil rights activists in particular.

Meredith was shot and injured by James Aubrey Norvell, a white sniper, shortly after crossing the Tennessee-Mississippi state line on the second day of his march, June 6. He was transferred to a Memphis hospital to recover from his injuries when he was unable to continue the march.

Meanwhile, leading civil rights leaders such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (SCLC), Floyd McKissick (CORE), and Stokely Carmichael (SNCC) opted to continue the march with armed security provided by the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) were among the other organizations present, as were white leaders such as UAW President Walter Reuther, who brought ten buses full of union members. The NAACP’s Roy Wilkins was originally slated to march, but he withdrew after learning that the Deacons for Defense would be protecting the marchers.

The march went on as people from all throughout the country joined in. Marchers were fed by members of the Black community and, on rare occasions, sympathetic whites, such as those from the Holy Child Jesus Catholic Church in Canton, Mississippi. They made a pit stop at Tougaloo College, a historically Black college just north of Jackson, where James Brown, Dick Gregory, Sammy Davis Jr., Burt Lancaster, and Marlon Brando entertained them.

On June 25, the day before the marchers entered Jackson, James Meredith rejoined the march. By that time, the crowd had swelled to over 15,000 people, making it Mississippi’s largest civil rights demonstration ever. On June 26, the marchers arrived at the state capitol. By that time, they had registered over 4,000 new voters, mostly in the Mississippi Delta counties, which are mainly black.

Despite its apparent success, the March Against Fear is best known today as the event that launched the Black Power Movement. When the marchers arrived in Greenwood, Mississippi on Thursday, June 16, the simmering tension between nonviolence advocates such as Martin Luther King and those who challenged that philosophy, such as Stokely Carmichael, became public when Carmichael rejoined the marchers after being arrested by local police.

Carmichael, speaking from a park’s platform, stated that Blacks must reject racial integration and establish their own political and economic resources without white help. He then proclaimed “Black Power.” The address, which was televised to a nationwide audience, signaled the start of a new era in the fight for racial justice.

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