Evenhanded look at the many complicated tenets of the civil rights movement that converged with James Meredith’s march from Memphis to Jackson, Miss., in June 1966.
The early successful cohesion of nonviolent demonstration in the movement was fraying from emerging militancy, outcry over the Vietnam War and government inattention. Goudsouzian (History/Univ. of Memphis; King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, 2010, etc.) brings these uneasy strands together in the Meredith March, as it was called. In 1962, Meredith was the first black man to challenge segregation at the University of Mississippi; a celebrated and somewhat misunderstood activist loner, Meredith had resolved to march through the Mississippi delta alone or with a few black men in order to “challenge that all-pervasive fear that dominates the day to day life of the Negro,” as well as galvanize black voter registration. The intended march was more or less ignored by the civil rights establishment, who dismissed Meredith as opportunistic or a little kooky, until a white man shot him on the first leg of the march. First reports stated that Meredith was dead, another casualty who had dared to challenge Jim Crow. Though he was only wounded, other leaders were shocked into action and resumed his crusade: first, Floyd McKissick of the Congress of Racial Equality; then, Martin Luther King Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference; followed by the increasingly militant Stokely Carmichael of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Each of the leaders, in the process of profound change to his respective group, found it opportune to continue on Highway 51, astounding passersby with their singing, descending on courthouses to register black voters and refusing to be intimidated by angry whites.
A textured exploration of the significant players and events at this key juncture in American history.