March Against Fear
On June 6, 1966, James Meredith started a solitary March Against Fear for 220 miles from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to protest against racism. Soon after starting his march he was shot by a gunman with shotgun, injuring him. When they heard the news, other civil rights campaigners, including SCLC's Martin Luther King, SNCC's Stokely Carmichael, Cleveland Sellers and Floyd McKissick, as well as the Human Rights Medical Committee and other civil rights organizations decided to continue the march in Meredith's name. The NAACP were originally involved but pulled out on learning that the Deacons for Defense and Justice were going to be protecting the march. Ordinary people both black and white came from the South and all parts of the country to participate. The marchers slept on the ground outside or in large tents, and were fed mainly by local communities.
On the early evening of Thursday, June 16, 1966, when the marchers arrived in Greenwood, Mississippi, and tried to set up camp at Stone Street Negro Elementary School, Carmichael was arrested for trespassing on public property. Carmichael was held for several hours and then rejoined the marchers at a local park where they had set up camp and were beginning a night-time rally. According to civil rights historian David Garrow, an angry Carmichael took the speaker's platform and delivered his famous "Black Power" speech. King, who had flown to Chicago on Wednesday to help organize the open housing marches, returned to Mississippi on Friday to find that the civil rights movements' internal divisions between the old guard and new guard had gone public. SNCC's "Black Power" slogan was now competing with SCLC's "Freedom Now" slogan.
In Canton, Mississippi the march was attacked and tear-gassed by the Mississippi State Police, who were joined by other police agencies. Several marchers were wounded, one severely. Human Rights Medical Committee members conducted a house-to-house search that night looking for wounded marchers. The nuns of the Catholic school extended their help and hospitality to the marchers, especially to the wounded.
By June 26, when the march entered Jackson, it was estimated to be 15,000 strong. Its passage was warmly welcomed in the black neighborhoods and by some whites. However, many whites jeered and threatened the marchers; others simply stayed indoors.
After hospital treatment, Meredith rejoined the March on June 25, the day before it arrived in Jackson.
- Goudsouzian, Aram. Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 2014.