Meredith’s March Against Fear

On June 5, 1966, James Meredith set out to demonstrate that Blacks could exercise freedom without the assistance of the National Guard in what he called the “March Against Fear.” This walk began in Memphis at the Peabody Hotel and was to continue 220 miles to the Mississippi capital in Jackson. Historian Taylor Branch notes that “Meredith wore a yellow pitch helmet, carried an ivory-tipped walking stick, and displayed a white horse’s tail among gifts from a Sudanese chief.” At the twenty-sixth mile of the march, just south of Hernando, Aubrey Norvell stood in the roadside brush and yelled “James Meredith” twice. He raised his 16 gauge automatic shotgun and fired three times at Meredith.It was later reported that doctors had to remove about seventy shotgun pellets from Meredith’s head, neck, and body. Meredith was rushed to the hospital and about fifteen law officers apprehended Norvell, who was an unemployed hardware contractor from Memphis. 

While Meredith was unable to complete his march, other civil rights leaders continued in tribute to Meredith.With their arms linked, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Floyd McKissick, and Stokely Carmichael resumed the walk where Meredith left off on Highway 51 in Hernando.Several other marchers, reporters and Mississippi state troopers were also present that day.State troopers confronted the marchers and ordered them to get out of the road.Stokely Carmichael attempted to defend the activists against an aggressive state trooper but King kept his arms locked tightly with Carmichael’s to restrain him.Citizens in Desoto County are currently making efforts to erect a marker at the place at which Meredith was shot and these events took place.

The march was completed on June 26, three weeks after Meredith left Memphis.The march which began as a solitary mission by James Meredith swelled to over 15,000 people when it ended in Jackson. Photographs from the March Against Fear are displayed at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. (National Civil Rights Museum, 450 Mulberry Street, Memphis, TN 38103).

Sources:

John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, University of Illinois Press, 1995.

“March Against Fear,” Wikipedia, 30 May 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_Against_Fear.

Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.