Sunday, June 25, James Meredith turned 90 years old. Many people became aware of it because it was highlighted by his appearance on the steps of the State Capitol Building in Jackson, MS. As had been frequently done since his arrival as a student at Jackson State University in 1960, he made a decision to share the event with the public.
Perhaps most people familiar with Meredith came to know him through the publicity surrounding his historical entry to the University of Mississippi in October 1962. Many others got to know him as a result of the publicity surrounding the assassination attempt on his life when he embarked upon his “March Against Fear” from Memphis to Jackson in June 1966. Aside from those events, however, Meredith has often been a public figure, working with Medgar Evers and the NAACP, organizing students at Jackson State University, participating on talk radio and television programs, and otherwise speaking and writing about his experiences since his successful desegregation of Ole Miss.
This past week, however, he reached a new level, as he shared his birthday by traveling from New Albany, in northeast Mississippi, to Jackson, in what was billed as a “March Against Crime.” From June 18 through the 25 he made his way across the state.
In sweltering heat, the Meredith entourage, led by a drum corps from Jim Hill High School, arrived at the State Capitol around 2:45 p.m. Sunday. This concluding program was characterized by a series of songs, speeches, and poetry.
Appropriately, the event was emceed by noted radio personality Katina Rankin and the talented Mack McAfee. Nancy Branton provided opening remarks and an invocation to get things started. Then, the event was marred, but not lost or canceled, when Meredith stepped up to the podium and started his speech. The unsecured podium fell forward as did Meredith himself.
After a real scare and period of uncertainty as Meredith was taken care of, the program continued with McAfee reading and making comments from Meredith’s notes. The essential message delivered was that the crime and other problems facing the state and the community can be solved through the Ten Commandments, as summarized in the Golden Rule. It stressed that love is the key; that we are not at war with one another, but must work together, each one using his/her skills or expertise to help build-up the whole society. In that sense, it was Meredith’s gift to the community.
This message was book-ended by Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come’’ and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” both of which are Meredith’s favorites. The message was tailored to deal with social and racial division and very pointedly with crime and violence. It was well-received.
Thus, in his own unique and dramatic way, Meredith shared his birthday with the state and community. Others who joined in the sharing included: community activist Valorie Holt, police officer Colendula Norton Green, coach Eric Strothers and the Tougaloo men’s basketball staff and several players, civil rights veteran Flonzie Brown Wright, Hinds County Supervisor David Archie, and City Councilman John Meredith, son of James Meredith and president of the Huntsville Alabama City Council. Councilman Meredith added special flavor to the program by talking about what it meant to have grown up as an off-spring of James Meredith.
The event was closed by the reading of an original poem by Iyanu Carson, a sixth grader at Casey Elementary School. It was both a birthday tribute and a thank you note well-received.