History recalled in Hernando

Dr. Marco Robinson, a Rust College history professor, revisits the site where civil rights icon James Meredith was gunned down on U.S. Hwy. 51, just outside the Hernando city limits on June, 6, 1966.

The bloodstains are no longer visible on the recently-paved blacktop along U.S. 51 where civil rights icon James Meredith was gunned down outside Hernando on June 6, 1966.

"Man, that sure was a lot of blood," Meredith told this writer recently after watching a newsreel of his limp body lying in a pool of seeping blood.

The setting was just offstage at the Lewis-Clark State College auditorium in Lewiston, Idaho.

Yours truly, DeSoto County Museum Director Brian Hicks and Dr. Lisa Manning, PhD, along with her husband Marcus Manning of Hernando, accompanied the Jackson resident on a whirlwind civil rights tour of the Pacific Northwest in October of last year. That trip was sponsored by the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

At the time, Meredith, now 83, marveled at the sight how one person could lose so much blood and remain alive.

"That's the first time I've seen that," Meredith said of footage actually shot from a British cameraman at the scene.

Meredith said the trip out West last fall was an eye-opening experience.

"I learned more about Mississippi in Idaho than anywhere else," Meredith added in a phone conversation with the DeSoto Times-Tribune on Monday.

There are parallels between conservative elements in Idaho and Mississippi, which Meredith expounded upon at length during that trip.

Yet, Meredith preferred to keep the conversation personal and resisted talking about politics.

Speaking from his home in Jackson, Meredith said he is soldiering on despite his advanced age and recent bouts with falling.

Just as Meredith relied on a Bible and an African walking stick during his walk through Hernando a half-century ago, Meredith is leaning once again on those objects to help sustain and steady his walk as an octogenarian.

"I've learned there is no turning back the effects of old age," Meredith said with a sigh. "When I fell recently at the Kroger here on Meadowbrook Road (in Jackson), they gave me a cane to walk with. After the thing that happened 50 years ago, I decided to brush off that walking stick."

Yet, the full-court press of the anniversary of that momentous event by the media still factored in the conversation with Meredith.

The images captured that fateful day from photographers "down in the ditch," were still ever-present and on Meredith's mind.

During the phone interview, Meredith referenced a recent story in a Jackson newspaper about the photographers who accompanied him on that walk. Witnesses sought cover and some crouched behind vehicles when gunshots erupted. Meredith was said to have wondered aloud if anyone planned to come to his aid in the immediate moments after he was shot.

The famous Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photo of Meredith lying unconscious and bleeding on U.S. 51 was the subject of the story that appeared a recent edition of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi's largest newspaper.

"It (story) was about the photo when I got shot just down the road from you," Meredith said of a story, of which he was particularly enamored with reading.

"That professor set out to find out the mindset of the photographers involved. One of the best stories I've read with the name of James Meredith associated with it."

For James Meredith, the events of that fateful day are just like they happened yesterday.

Meredith heard a shadowy figure in the bushes call out his name.

"James … James … I want James Meredith."

Meredith turned to face his assailant and he was peppered with bullets.

The pungent smell of gunpowder was still in the air from his then would-be assassin as the man with the gun was hustled off to a waiting patrol car by former DeSoto County Sheriff Lee Meredith. The sheriff never handcuffed the man, later identified as Aubrey James Norvell of Memphis.

Norvell, a pipe clenched in his teeth, seemed to pose for the cameras. Norvell would later become the first white man arrested in Mississippi for shooting a black man.

Meredith was taken by a hearse from a local funeral home to a hospital in Memphis.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights activists like Stokely Carmichael would finish Meredith's march into the interior of Mississippi, a state cloaked in white supremacy and literally dripping with the blood of African-Americans kidnapped, lynched, tortured, murdered and otherwise disenfranchised from participating in the political process or obtaining an quality education.

Meredith was walking to liberate men of color and all men, women and children from the fear that often cripples individuals from taking full participation in the political process that governs their daily lives.

"It was so powerful on so many different levels and engaged Martin Luther King to finish the march," Manning said. "He and Dr. King, up until that point, hadn't done anything together. It was a turning point. It awakened the world that there was still so much work to do."

Meredith declined to comment on the current political situation in America.

During an event at the Hernando Public Library on Monday night, a panel of historians and academicians pondered what Meredith's "Walk Against Fear" and the ensuing march by King meant to the Civil Rights Movement and its relevance today.

Dr. Marco Robinson, an assistant professor of history at Rust College in Holly Springs and a Hernando native, was among a trio of panelists who spoke during Monday's program.

"This is the 50th anniversary of the Meredith march through DeSoto County," Robinson said. "This is a time for us to reflect on the changes made in DeSoto County and Mississippi. We see racial incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore and other parts of the country. People seem to be turning a blind eye to all these incidents and there has not been public engagement on the issue.

"He (Meredith) was shot here in Hernando. There are a lot of things that have changed and a lot of things that have not. We still have a great deal to learn from history about that," said Robinson.

When a reporter asked Meredith how he was feeling physically, the mercurial Meredith suddenly turned philosophical.

"I'm still here," Meredith said with just a touch of whimsy in his voice. "Still here."

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

(1) comment

Meredith C McGee

[smile] I am a niece of James Meredith and the author of his biography "James Meredith: Warrior and the America that created him." I am so happy that his Walk Against Fear has been celebrated in Memphis, his hometown, and I enjoyed this article. Many blessings to the author and the newspaper.

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