• 61°

Meredith follows new marching orders

He started his walk on May 26 in Memphis, and he plans to finish it in the coming days at the Mississippi-Louisiana border. The purpose of his journey isn’t to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his entrance to Ole Miss in 1962 – an event that sparked three days of riots in Oxford and ended with two individuals dead as the nation watched. Instead, his trek is aimed at making a comment on the moral decay of society today.

     James Meredith was in Brookhaven last week not to talk about his Ole Miss experience, or his one-man march of 1966, which was abruptly ended by the shot of a sniper. He wanted to talk about his concerns for the future – not only Mississippi’s but the nation’s.

     Dressed all in white with a panama hat and a flowing gray beard, the 79-year-old former civil rights activist chooses his words carefully but with precision. He is frustrated these days. He is not so much upset with racial issues anymore, he says, but with society in general and its lack of moral character.

     “Leave race alone,” he said. “It is still a problem, but the real problem is the breakdown of the moral character of our country” and how several generations do not understand the basics of right and wrong.

     Meredith places blame on Christians, both black and white, for not stepping up to the plate. He places blame on 40 years of the federal government throwing money at education. He places blame on families who have come to think that schools, not they, should raise their children.

     He places blame at the feet of the liberal elite who find it easier to toss money at problems without finding solutions. He places blame with those, both black and white, who want to maintain the status quo for their own personal gains. He places blame on those who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions.

     “Everything has been about money for the last 40 years … and the money (from government) is running out,” he said. “Only people can correct the problem – not money – so my goal is to simply get people to now fulfill their Christian duty.”

     Looking away and taking a deep breath, he chooses his words carefully. “What everybody needs to do is start talking about discipline and respect.”  Looking back he says with a glare in his eyes, “We have three-to-four generations (of people) who have no idea what parents are supposed to do!”

     He stops for a moment, pauses and shakes his head, and then adds, “We must lay the proper foundation from birth to age 5; then everything will take care of its self from there.”

     An hour later, he abruptly stops. “I have to go,” he says. “For the last two years God has pulled on my coat, He tells me I talk too much.”

     With the years slowing his gait, his planned walk of the length of Mississippi has changed to now only walking from city limits to city limits within the individual towns and cities lying along the Highway 51 route.

     But that plan now is changing, too, due to the vast distances across some towns. “Cities are expanding their footprint for economic reasons, looking for a larger tax base,” Meredith said, referring specifically to Brookhaven’s greater expanse.    

     So Meredith’s walk through Brookhaven was more of a drive to visit the newspaper and to visit an old college friend from his days at Jackson State – before he enrolled at Ole Miss.

     “My daddy always told be to always finish what I had started, so I am going to do just that,” he said. A few minutes later he drove away in his dusty old car with an Ole Miss alumni sticker displayed on the back window.   

     Meredith says he plans to visit all 82 counties in the state to tell his story. “I have got to meet the pillars of each community and make them understand what I am talking about.”

     Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602, or send e-mail to bjacobs@dailyleader.com.