Meredith is a civil rights icon who has long resisted that label because she believes it distinguishes issues like the right to vote and equal access to education from other human rights.
During the event, Meredith fell while trying to stand up and speak. She leaned against an unsecured lectern, which crashed forward with Meredith on top of her. Close people hastened to return him to a wheelchair.
Meredith sustained no visible injuries. An ambulance team checked on him later, and then Meredith went to her house in Jackson to celebrate her birthday with her family. Her wife, Judy Alsobrooks Meredith, said on Monday she spent time with her grandchildren and showed no signs of pain.
In October 1962, federal marshals escorted Meredith as she enrolled as the first black student at the University of Mississippi, as whites rioted on the Oxford campus. The governor of Mississippi at the time, Ross Barnett, had stirred up a frenzy in the crowd by declaring that Ole Miss would not be integrated under his watch.
Meredith was a 29-year Air Force veteran who had previously taken classes at one of Mississippi’s historically black colleges, Jackson State. NAACP attorneys represented him when she obtained a federal court order to enter the state’s flagship public university. After a largely solitary existence at Ole Miss, Meredith graduated in 1963 with a degree in political science.
After graduation, Meredith set out to promote black voter registration and prove that a black man could cross the Mississippi without fear. In June 1966, a white man with a rifle wounded Meredith on the second day of a march from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. With Meredith hospitalized, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael and other civil rights leaders continued the march, often followed by long lines of activists and locals.
Less than three weeks after he was shot, Meredith had recovered enough to join the final leg of what became known as the March Against Fear. It concluded at the state capitol, where approximately 15,000 people gathered for the largest civil rights rally in Mississippi.
This year, Meredith planned to travel 200 miles up Mississippi to spread her anti-crime message, roughly the same distance as the March Against Fear. Instead, she has made a number of appearances in recent weeks, often using a walker, wheelchair or golf cart.
On Sunday, Meredith traveled on a golf cart the last quarter mile from Jackson City Hall to the Mississippi State Capitol, led by a high school marching band and accompanied by dozens of people on foot. An ethnically diverse group of about 200 sought shade under magnolias and oak trees as they listened to songs, speeches, and a child’s poetry praising Meredith.
Flonzie Brown-Wright, a longtime civil rights activist from Mississippi who participated in the 1966 March Against Fear, said she believes Meredith is a genius at strategizing for social change.
“He’s a very intelligent man, endowed with a lot of old-fashioned wisdom. He was able to use him for the greater good of his people,” Brown-Wright said on Sunday. “I love him like a big brother.”
In the decades since Meredith integrated Ole Miss, the university has erected a statue of him on campus and held numerous events to honor him and his legacy.
John Meredith said Sunday his father had a profound effect on higher education, but the March Against Fear had a greater impact on him as a son because it demonstrated the importance of elections.
“The silent gift of voting is the ability to help shape the laws by which you live. It’s the beauty and the curse of America, » said John Meredith, the current city council president of Huntsville, Alabama. « Participating in voting brings about inclusion, diversity, and opportunity. Not voting brings about the loss of freedom. .. and government oppression ».
At the Capitol’s birthday celebration, Iyanu B. Carson, a fifth grader from Jackson, read her poem titled « 90 Years of History, » saying she aspires to be like Meredith.
“You chose to use your voice, you were strong, and you made him think you belonged,” Iyanu said. “Today we celebrate history and, Mr. Meredith, history is you! We are proud of your successes and everything you’ve been through. »