State Capitol Building

In the New Capitol building, completed in 1903, the Mississippi legislature institutionalized “Jim Crow”practices. For example, the legislature passed two bills in 1962 that kept the Jackson city bus line segregated.

In the late ’50s and ’60s, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, a state-created and state-funded organization, coordinated its surveillance and disruption of civil rights activities from offices on the fourth floor of the capitol, and later from the Woolfolk Building on West Street.

During the 1965 special summer session of the legislature, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) sponsored three weeks of demonstrations at the New Capitol demanding electoral reform. More than 600 demonstrators were arrested.

The James Meredith’s “March Against Fear”culminated here on June 26, 1966, with a rally of about 20,000 persons gathered on the north side. Speakers included Meredith, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., NAACP Field Secretary Charles Evers, and NAACP State Chairman Aaron Henry. The Meredith Mississippi March took its name from James Meredith, who became the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi in 1962, after a ruling by federal courts that he could not be denied admission. On June 5, 1966, Meredith, now a Columbia University law student, and a few companions, began a walk from Memphis, Tenn. to Jackson, Miss. to encourage African Americans to register and vote. He called it a “march against fear.” On June 6 he was wounded with a shotgun blast.

The next day, leaders of the major civil rights organizations, Dr. Martin Luther King of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Floyd McKissick of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and Stokely Carmichael of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee), announced that they would resume his march, and invited freedom-loving people from all over the country to join them.

For almost three weeks, between a 200 and 2,000 people walked the 220 miles to the state capitol, camping out at night under rented circus tents. Local people fed the marchers on the way. After asking that federal registrars be sent to Mississippi, civil rights leaders took groups of marchers to nearby towns to canvass, rally and bring local African Americans to be registered. The Dept. of Justice later estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 black Mississippians were registered to vote during the march.

Well guarded by the Mississippi Highway Patrol, the marchers were not attacked on their main route, but some were assaulted on the side trips.

The March concluded on June 26 with a rally of 15,000 people in Jackson, while over a thousand officers in the Mississippi Highway Patrol, National Guard, and local law enforcement agencies guarded the capital building.

Sources:

“Civil Rights Driving Tour of Hinds County”produced by the Associated Press, Tougaloo College, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the Mississippi Development Authority (Tourism Division).