A Soldier's Story: The JFP Interview with James Meredith | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

A Soldier's Story: The JFP Interview with James Meredith

James Meredith

James Meredith


Walking With Mr. Meredith

JFP Editor Donna Ladd writes about James Meredith and the hero she now calls a friend.

A Mad Insurrection, Explained

Three men on the scene—including James Meredith himself—explained what happened at Ole Miss in 1962 in two new books and one classic.

Should Ole Miss do better job explaining white supremacy?

Ole Miss professor Charles Eagles says the university does not give enough context on what white supremacy really meant in Mississippi. James Meredith agrees.

Fifty years ago today, James Meredith spent his first full day as a University of Mississippi student. Meredith refers to the violent response to his admission as a "war" between Mississippi and the United States. Today, the Jacksonian continues to fight against the myths of white supremacy and black inferiority. Read a collection of stories about Meredith, his new book, his controversial views—and his JFP interview from 2008 here.

Dressed in a three-piece off-white suit, fit for a Sunday afternoon church dinner, James Meredith was standing on the side of Meadowbrook Drive, waving us down. He was afraid that we would drive by his house. Certainly, drivers pass the aging North Jackson home, with its slightly unkempt shrubs, every day without knowing, or considering, that a legend lives inside its walls.

As we jump out of the car to shake his hand, Meredith pays little mind to the mosquito hovering around his balding head. The old soldier has dealt with far more dangerous pests.

Meredith was born in 1930s Kosciusko, the very center of the state of Mississippi (and the birthplace of Oprah Winfrey), during the height of the Jim Crow Era. This was the time when many scholars claim the state's white majority was not satisfied with merely subjugating blacks, but was determined to push them out of the state, decreasing their population by imposing one miserable hardship after another.

The most prominent of the generation of black military veterans who came back home to the South, tired of racial oppression, the U.S. Air Force enlistee would make a stand against white supremacy in 1962, becoming the first black to attend the University of Mississippi. The school, of course, was considered the pinnacle of white endowment, and with a pride of its own making. The university, at that time, proudly upheld its racist traditions—from its name (the "ole miss" was what slaves called the plantation owner's wife), to its Confederate soldier mascots (plantation owner "Colonel Reb") and symbol (the Confederate battle flag) to its violent defiance of integration.

Then-Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett symbolized the state government's opposition to Meredith's aim. His appearance on the Oxford campus set off violent protests, which could only be suppressed by federal troops, as angry Mississippians and visitors stood up for an old way of life, while other students hid in the dorms and frat houses. Barnett got a $10,000 fine and a contempt charge, though the federal government came out worse for wear: About 30 marshals and almost 50 soldiers suffered injuries from the raging crowd, and two people were killed.

Still, Meredith braved the violence and marched onto campus, where he attended classes for two semesters and made a statement that would endure for decades. Meredith's son, Joseph Meredith, graduated from the same college with a doctorate in business administration in 2002.

Often seen around his adopted home of Jackson wearing an Ole Miss cap, Meredith remains a controversial figure in American politics. Despite his "war" on white supremacy, which he calls the stance he took, he considers the Civil Rights Movement to be flawed, arguing that the movement demanded that the dominant race condescend to granting black people their rights. Highly suspicious of government generosity for most of his life, Meredith has made a point of criticizing many social institutions, including welfare, believing the programs to be hand-outs that effectively keep black Americans dependent upon the system.

We sat down to interview Meredith in his small home office one week before the nation's first black presidential nominee participates in a debate at Ole Miss on Sept. 26—46 years to the day since Lt. Gov. Paul Johnson turned back Meredith for entering Ole Miss the third time before the federal government helped him enroll on Oct. 1.

The office is messy in that way that work spaces of people with busy minds tends to be. Papers, books, boxes and assorted odds and ends litter the little room where he typed up his "rules for journalists" at an old electric typewriter (for example: reporters can't call him "African American," and they must say "Southern Baptist," which is a negative phrase to him, in every article. The rules, he emphasized, do not apply to the Jackson Free Press, though).

During the interview, the unpredictable prophet for change challenged power structures that allow easy divisions and stereotypes about both races that, he says, lets the wrong people off the hook and does not get at the heart of white supremacy—and how to defeat it.

But, first, sitting under a huge American flag above his gray-and-white striped sofa, he talked about a conversation he recently had with another legend of Mississippi, long-time newsman Bill Minor, who covered the 1962 Ole Miss riot for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and who today lives near Meredith in North Jackson.

James Meredith:
I want to say something. The day before yesterday, I visited Bill Minor to bring him up to date. He's the first news person to interview me. He figured me out right away, but then he backed off on it.

JFP: He backed off on his opinion of you?
Not his opinion. His observation. (Minor wrote, according to Meredith:) "After an hour or more of talking with Meredith back in 1961, I was convinced he was in the least, extremely naive, beset with a messianic complex. He insisted he was not on a messianic mission; simply trying to fulfill his lifelong ambition to graduate from Ole Miss, the state's most prestigious institution."

(Minor continued, per Meredith:) "41 years ago when I first met James Meredith, I thought he was crazy to believe he would be admitted as the first black student at the University of Mississippi without causing an uproar." But what he decided on, which was the best choice for me, was to tell everybody that ever came to Mississippi to interview me that I was crazy.

Why is that the best choice for you?
That was the biggest part of my game plan.

What plan?
There's nothing more powerful than someone that everyone can say is crazy, but everybody knows they're are not. Fear is a two-way street, Most people only think it's a one-way street. Nothing is more powerful than a person being in a situation where everyone thinks they ought to be fearful, and they do not show any fear. What that situation does is scare the life out of everybody else.

Know it's a fact: When (then-Lt. Gov.) Paul Johnson stopped us in the middle of the street (in 1962) ... he was shaking so bad that he couldn't hold his hand straight. Back then, the football players that couldn't make it to the pros got automatic positions on the state police. So you had all those 300-pound state troopers backing up against the wall, and every one of them was shaking like a leaf on a tree.

I read that you were on campus, and somebody threw an M-80 down behind you, and the story said you didn't flinch. How'd you do that?
I knew the power of fear and all the other emotions.

(Meredith hands over a sheaf of clippings and his own writings.)
I have never not felt that I was a prophet, that I had a divine responsibility to tell the world what God intended for them to know. But today is the first time I'm admitting it. A lot of people have sensed it.

That you were that prophet?
Right. Or that I felt like I was. (Laughs.) So that old James Meredith dog that everybody's interested in can't hunt no more; I didn't say won't; he can't because he's dead and buried. The real James Meredith—as Bill Minor said in his article—;he's coming out of the closet. I'm going to let the world know who I really am.

Who are you really?
That's not easy. It's almost like the homosexual thing was 40 years ago, and like the AIDS thing is today. Most any homosexual now who wants to come out of the closet can do it without any particular fear of result. But people with AIDS today would rather people not know they have it, than to get proper treatment for it. In a sense, I guess I'm saying that I went through every kind of disguise to disguise the fact that I thought I was a messenger. Now I'm going to use all my energy to do what I think God sent me here to do.

What is that?
To make the Christian world, particularly, know what the biblical and Jesus' own command is for them to do for the poor. And the only thing I'm connecting myself to with this debate at Oxford is this March Against AIDS. Not because it's that, but the AIDS problem is what it is because of the condition of the poor, and the responsibility (the rich shirk) to give to the poor. When they give anything, they think it's a gift. You understand? But that absolutely ain't the way Christ meant it. It was an absolute responsibility. That's the message God called me to deliver; and that's what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. To tell you the truth, the last 10, 15 years, I've spent trying to figure out why in the world God let me stay in (my life).

Why? Did you think your purpose was completed?
No, I knew it wasn't over with, but I also knew that I haven't done it.

Did you realize later that it's an ongoing fight, not just one battle?
You learn that from reading about Moses in the Bible. What most folks don't know about Moses is how many times he went back to Egypt trying to help the poor. In a sense, I've done everything I could to fulfill my mission. I just didn't tell folks.

Isn't it easy to take a stance on fighting AIDS?
No, it's not easy. ... The media has decided they are not going to deal with AIDS in America.

Is it a conscious decision by the media?
It's a conscious decision in that everybody can agree with my five stipulations (for the media; see sidebar) except for the last one about mentioning of "Southern Baptist" at least once. They tell me that if they use that name, and they got a television program, that they'll get put out of business, that if they are a paper, they'll get boycotted and what not, you understand? ... They're responding to the people who pay their salaries.

A lot of people complain about the way media cover Mississippi. What do you think?
There's a fourth (branch of government): the media, which is a thousand times more powerful than all the others put together. You see, you all are always blaming the Klan, the Ku Klux Klan. They ain't the ones making the policy; (the Klan) do what other powers allow them to do. Dealing with the black/white issue in America, that's been the Southern Baptists, and the most powerful are the Mississippi Southern Baptists. All other states have deferred to Mississippi and follow their lead on what policies can be agreed to. ... [Y]ou hear people talking about the "Bubba faction." The white, poor working class faction: That exists because the media, for 40 years, went on a program of making all whites feel like they were descended from the slave-holding class. There was nothing further from truth ... (White supremacy) wasn't about the (poor white) people who were always blamed; it was the powers-that-be.

Some people would think you were making an excuse for white supremacy. Are they missing your point?
I really don't care. Understand: The greatest supporters of white supremacy are blacks who have "made it." They are the last people who want substantial change because they don't know where they will fit after change. You understand? But that's secondary. The main issue in America today is the whites who lived all their life on this promise of getting something better than nonwhites, are now being cut off, they think.

By what?
By the change, man. If you're paying any attention at all, you'll see that the first person who ever publicly got away with being mixed was Barack Obama. Tiger Woods came close, but he never got away with it. Both blacks and whites questioned Woods. For 500 years, since Columbus discovered America, everyone who didn't have 100 percent white blood was black. The real race issue is solved. But some people are disappointed because they were promised all their lives that because they were white that they were going to get an advantage. That's all swept away. That's the real problem.

You said it's different with Barack Obama.
He's the only African American I know about—maybe one or two others—who've done this. Most people who think they're African American;actually 99 percent of them are practically Native American. Forty percent of them couldn't prove they have an ounce of African blood.

What makes Obama different than Tiger Woods?
It's very simple. Other than James Meredith, I've concluded that Barack Obama is the smartest person ever come into the world. Only thing Obama and I really have in common is we both graduated from Columbia University. And you, too. (To Donna; laughs). There's nobody better in America or the world who understands how Western Christian civilization works than Obama. He spent the biggest part of his life trying to figure out who he was in the black/white thing. He gave up on that and decided to learn how to remodel this system.

Most people know about the law review; every law school has one. But at Harvard, don't nobody even pretend—not even Yale—to be on the same level. Harvard has something interesting, though. ... The people on the law review are the smartest lawyers in Western Christian civilization. ... I'm by no means sure that he's going to be able to maneuver it (winning the election). Being smart doesn't guarantee that, but his brilliance, his knowledge is unsurpassed.

Are you an Obama fan?
There's one thing I agree with Rev. Wright about. Obama is a politician; he has to do what a politician has to do. But Rev. Wright said he was a pastor, he has to do what pastors have to do. I think I'm a prophet, and I have to do what prophets have to do. Deciding who to get elected isn't the business of a prophet. Whoever gets elected, it's my business to make sure they do what ought to be done.

Did you meet Obama while he was in town at JSU?
No. I ain't never met nobody but Dr. King who was supposed to be important.

What do you think about the debate at Ole Miss, after your own experience at that school?
If either the Democratic or Republican Party had any idea that Obama or any other black was going to be one of two people who could potentially become president of the United States, I guarantee that debate wouldn't have been there. For more than a year, they've promoted this debate as going to be about domestic issues, the race issue, health issues. Two weeks ago, they changed it. I know why. I ain't gonna tell you, but the question that ought to be asked is: Why was it changed? I think I understand politics. I ran for Congress once. Won the Democratic nomination and withdrew the next day. The last thing in the world I needed to be was a politician. I ran because in America that was one of the No. 1 platforms (to get my message across).

What's your relationship now with Ole Miss?
I think Ole Miss is the most progressive of any major school in the nation when it comes to race issues.

Why's that?
For the first 35 years after I went there, you would have found nothing at Ole Miss that made you know that James Meredith had ever been there. Almost since the time of present administration (Chancellor Robert Khayat), they made what I am sure, although they never told me, was a conscious decision to change. I think the decision was to educate Mississippians, not to keep the nation off their back, but they genuinely went out looking for blacks to educate. For the first 35 years, you couldn't have read nothing (done by Ole Miss) to know I was there.

Do you go there often now?
I haven't had a reason to visit since the statue was put up. My wife and son are going to the debate as a guest of the chancellor.

Aren't you going to the debate?
Didn't you hear me say I'm a genius?

I guess the media would be all over you if you did. What do you think of the statue they erected in your honor?
Like all the other major schools in the country, they were put under heavy pressure to do a "Black Thing." The night before statue dedication, they did their "Black Thing," and asked me to come early and attend it. I've been trying for 20, 25 years to figure out how to bury James Meredith and go back to who God put me here to be. And I chose that night. And I told them in my presentation to them ... that for the last 10 or 15 years I've been fighting hard with the university to cut out the "black this, black that" thing. That is the worst thing in American education today, the "black this" and "black that."

Tell us why.
In most schools across the country, the black studies have become the black part of the university. And the professors that make $200,000 a year, the black ones, genuinely think that if they got rid of that, they'd get rid of them. ... Understand: Every major university in America got black alumni and other alumni. I don't think nothing's wrong with either one being a group, but it's wrong for the university to pay for both. There's no difference whatsoever in Alcorn being for black and Mississippi State being for white. That's the issue.

So you're saying that dual identity-studies tracks and identity organizations keep black people back?
It keeps white supremacy reigning. There is absolutely no difference between segregation to maintain white supremacy and desegregation to maintain white supremacy, or integration to maintain white supremacy, or black this, white that, and other state-funded things.

They're still divided?
And it's no different, and every magnate in the media knows that. Do you know what the words "African American" really imply? That the person doesn't have the natural right to be there, so that whatever right they have has to be given to them. John Kennedy's daddy spent his whole life and a whole lot of money trying to keep from becoming (called) half Native American. For blacks to get control of the set-asides, the black elite deliberately set up this African American thing. Jesse Jackson called a meeting a long time ago of elite blacks, determined to use this term. The majority of blacks hated this term with a passion, but the media is pushing it down their throats.

The media would argue they're doing the right thing.
The little people are genuine. But there are nine people who control the Southern Baptists, who control America, and America controls the world. I don't know how many people control the media, but there aren't a whole lot more than that.

Do people misinterpret you in thinking that you're anti-black?
That bothers me.

But your ultimate goal really is to fight white supremacy?
To destroy it. Anybody who's ever read anything I wrote, they know it ain't to hurt white people. ... But my real focus is on producing citizens without any identification. Don't call me African American; I am a citizen of the United States of America. That's the designation that I want everybody to reach.

Have you been to Britain? How do you feel about how they handle race?
Ain't been much. Last time I went was to study the black thing. ... The only difference, and France is worse than England, is that blacks are smaller in number. White supremacy is worldwide; the whole war against Hitler was about white supremacy. It's not just an issue in America. I found out last time I was in Europe. I went to Eastern Europe; that's when I found out that white supremacy is just as powerful there as the worst days in Mississippi. People have your color (points to Adam) in southeast Europe, they'd suffer. Now, she'd be sort of in the middle (points to Donna). They'd look at her and wonder if she dyed (her hair).

What do you think of white people who say we shouldn't look at the past, or keep dwelling on history, which includes what you did at Ole Miss?
It's not the blacks who are most concerned about that; it's the whites. ... What most people don't know particularly about Mississippi is that Mississippi is the most controlled state in the union by the smallest number of people. White supremacists—starting with (former Govs.) Vardaman and Bilbo—their great appeal was that they aspired to a kind of reality. Before Vardaman, for sure, the elite people that owned all the Delta land controlled all the politics in Mississippi. And they let a few people like Vardaman and Bilbo go to the Ole Miss Law School. But the real problem, after the Civil War and after Reconstruction, people who owned the rich land—and (the family of) McCain was one of them—understood that the poor whites lived worse; they had worse houses (and) medical care. The people who owned and controlled Mississippi treated their work force a whole lot better than poor whites. The use of this race thing was to keep the poor whites poor but happy, because they could still feel they were better than the blacks. That's where you are now with groups saying, "Let the past stay in the past." That's not really what they're about. It's still all about "Us" and "Them," and they have never considered "Them" anymore "Us" than they consider me. Understand?

Sounds like a money thing.
Not only a money thing; it's a keeping-my-position thing.

So it was the powerful turning blacks and poor whites against one another?
Understand without a doubt that the most important 18 months of my life I spent in Jesse Helms' office. ... The biggest thing I did was research in the Library of Congress. The second biggest thing I did was attend all of the think-tank meetings: The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute, all of them. The other thing was to learn what politicians on the inside know about the opposition. You better believe they know a lot.

One of most important things I discovered was how the 1965 Voting Rights Act became law. The 1964 Civil Rights Acts contained a voting provision, but in Mississippi there weren't 10 (black) people registered. So Lyndon Johnson called Sen. James Eastland to his office. Eastland was the head of Judiciary Committee. Since Johnson had left the Senate, Eastland was the most powerful single person in Congress.

Big Jim Eastland.
Exactly. They didn't just start recording with Nixon. (Laughs.) When LBJ had Eastland in his office, he recorded the conversation. He told Eastland: "I'm gonna give the blacks the vote—though he didn't say "blacks." "You the only one that can give me any trouble. I'm gonna give them the vote. Jim, all you got to do is you take that vote under your wing." And Jim went along with it. They didn't even have a committee for (the 1965 legislation). It went right through. ... Jim Eastland at the time was the most hated white man in Mississippi (by blacks); he eclipsed Bilbo and Vardaman. Two months later, he was the most beloved white man in Mississippi by blacks. The other thing that Lyndon told him was that if you take that "black" vote under your wing, we will not only control Mississippi, we will control the whole South for the next 50 years and most states—every big city in America. It was a plan, and it worked perfectly according to the plan. It's the main reason blacks loved him so much.

Of course, that's been happening through-out history. ... Democracy has some good points, but it ain't hardly what most Americans think it is.

What's happening in politics today?
I think the future of the United States of America will be determined by two groups of people: well-to-do white women over 70, and pro-fessional or well-to-do white males under 40. What most people don't know is that it was the rich white females that defeated the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). The reason 70-year-old white women are key is because, being good Southern Baptists, they were loyal to their husbands—whatever he did was alright—;but they were more than loyal to their own sons. They wanted them to succeed any way necessary, and they didn't care about the imbalance in their opportunities and all that. A whole lot of them really and truly believe, as they claim, in the fundamentals of the Bible. Older they get, the more it bothers them. They don't have the same feeling of responsibility to the grandchildren as they had for their husbands. Their feelings of responsibility were even stronger in their own children, male children in particular. At one time there was a group who put themselves up on the Internet as the Old White Women in Mississippi for Obama. (Laughs)

When you say biblical "fundamentals," what do you mean?
The big fight among evangelicals is whether you interpret the Bible through metaphors or you literally believe that what is said in the Bible: that the rich should help the poor. It literally says in the Bible that the rich should help the poor, that farmers could not harvest all the crops. (White wives) always understood that, but their strongest commitment was to their husbands and their sons. But as they get older, their husbands are gone, and their sons are successful.

And they sometimes have different ideas.
This election is key. What happens in Mississippi will reflect the mood of the country. I won't quite say it will decide whether Obama or McCain wins. If whites vote for Obama in Mississippi at 30 percent, that will almost mean that the majority of the whites (in the U.S.) are ready (to vote for a black). You see, there ain't no difference between politics and football. Bear Bryant had a quota of five blacks on his team. In NFL, until 15 or 20 years ago, everyone said a black couldn't be quarterback. Now if he can win, he can be the quarterback. It's not an issue any more. Even Tiger Woods: When he first came on scene it was an issue. Today nobody anywhere in the world wants to have a golf tournament if Tiger Woods ain't on the team. Mississippi will determine if blacks can really be politicians.

The national media might say there's no way Mississippi will determine the electability of blacks.
(The reporters) out in the street talking to people believe that, but the people who run the system know. They've got an agenda. ... During World War II, Roosevelt appointed a commission to determine how to deal with potential enemies in the event that America went into World War II. This professor was one of members of that commission; he let me read the commission report. He wouldn't give it to me, but he let me read it. It made four basic decisions. No. 1, the Japanese: It determined to put them in concentration camps. Next, the Germans: It made a decision to contain them. Most of them were in the Midwest, and they didn't feel like they could totally contain that population. The Italians were next: Most of those lived in urban areas. They decided to put selected Italians in concentration camps, to contain them, watch them, though they're ashamed about that now and they don't even talk about it. One of the other group was blacks: They recommended to the president that all (Roosevelt) had to with the blacks was make a vague promise of moving and uplifting. It recommended that a high-ranking black be assigned in the Pentagon, and one high-ranking black general be made; two (black) congressmen—one east of Mississippi, one west—two congressional districts be established. And then a pledge that they were going to work to improve the condition of blacks. That is one of most important bits of knowledge ever to come to me.

Do you think that speaks to the government's perception of the gullibility of blacks?
The commission clearly comes to the conclusion that blacks were clearly not anti-American. This is during World War II after communists made all their efforts to recruit blacks and failed, so their loyalty was not questioned.

Does that seem logical to you, that blacks didn't go for it?
It still seems logical to the liberal elite. Do you know what the liberal agenda was (in the 1960s)?

If there are 100 rights, or even 10, even if blacks accepted only three—education, interstate transportation and voting—if those were the only goals of the Movement, blacks would still accept it, would only accept three of those citizenship rights. ... I had more than one (white leader), including Robert Kennedy himself, who at the time was a senator, to make me the proposition to make me the biggest "black" politician;and he did say that. He didn't use that other word. (Laughs.)

Were blacks hurt by going along with the "liberal agenda," by taking the crumbs that were scattered down to them?
It killed them. In reality, blacks are worse off today than they've ever been.

What is Obama then, another crumb-dropper?
I ain't gonna talk about Obama and McCain.

We're not asking for an endorsement.
I mentioned both their names. I was hoping you would be satisfied.

What do we need to do then?
What we need is to shift the focus from race and color to rich and poor.

You're talking redistribution of wealth, pal. Sean Hannity's watchin'.
I wasn't going to say this, but the five most important people in this campaign are:

No. 1, Sean Hannity;
No. 2, Jeremiah Wright;
No. 3, Michelle Obama;
No. 4, Barack Obama;
No. 5, Bill Clinton.

Hannity, because he ain't never going to let white supremacy go, and he genuinely believes what he's doing. (Bill) O'Reilly and others are just trying to get ratings, but Hannity really believes that whites got special white rights. He's not just being anti-black; it's anti-anything other than white. He won't let that issue die.

Jeremiah Wright because the biggest divide between black and white America is religion; 98 percent of blacks who go to church go to a church originally started by the Southern Baptists, and still to this day dominates it. Obama disassociated himself with Rev. Wright. What most people don't know is that Jeremiah Wright deliberately set it up, so he could disassociate himself from him. Because he wanted to see Obama elected. Watch Bill Moyers' interview with Wright and the meeting of preachers in Detroit; then the very next day he came to Washington, D.C., and threw this fit; he did that so Obama could cut himself off and everyone would see it as justified. But that issue ain't going away.

Michelle Obama: You read all the black magazines; they've kept up with her pretty good. They're not saying nothing much, just real pretty pictures. But they used to say Michelle was real; staying real. Staying "black" was what they meant. Since the Convention, you ain't once seen Michelle Obama unless she was hugging some elite white woman.

That, of course, is meant to help Obama, and I think it does. Takes the edge off.

Barack Obama because he's so brilliant.

Bill Clinton understands even better than anyone sitting here the race thing and Western Christian civilization. He genuinely believes Hillary should be nominated because he didn't believe America was ready to elect a black. It won't necessarily be about what he will do in the future, but what he has already done. ... Not many people knew Bill was sophisticated in playing the race card.

He did play the race card.
Of course, but he was sophisticated about it. He was a Rhodes Scholar.

You don't want to endorse, but do you think America can elect Barack Obama?
I believe it's a 49-51 situation. It absolutely depends on how successful the Republicans are at highlighting the race issue. I don't even know if Sarah Palin knows that she's in the race because—like that Canadian woman (CBC's Heather Mallick) said—she's white trash. I think she probably actually believes that she's probably as good a person as ever been born.

Do you think the voter-registration drives will have an impact?
You don't win elections just by having people on the roads who are on your side. You understand: Any good politicians knows if you can keep the right people away from the polls, it will make all the difference. Like this Florida thing: The whites sent out letters telling blacks they're going to be arrested (if they got a record when they vote). That's for real. I know there are more ways to keep people from doing something than to get them to do something. I guarantee you that the Republicans know more tricks than I do.

Mississippians under 30 went over 63 percent for Kerry in 2004, the highest in the South. We have the largest percentage of blacks, but we also have a lot of young people of all races who are thinking differently these days. Does Mississippi have a shot of going for Obama?
If they have a shot, it's because of former Gov. (Ray) Mabus. When Gov. Mabus was elected governor, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed him. They asked him what had to happen to make this race thing right in Mississippi? His answer was that the black vote was going to have to stop being bought and paid for before the election. He is working hard (for the Obama campaign), genuinely. ... You understand, the experts know the tricks (to discourage voting). And they're going to be last-minute tricks. You see, Bilbo is still with us. Bilbo says the way you make a nonwhite vote the way you want is to visit him the night before. What he wanted, of course, was for them to stay at home. Visit them the night before—and there are a lot of ways to "visit."

What's your advice to young people in Mississippi, both black and white, to help us move forward and break the back of white supremacy?
I think they're already doing it. They're taking a real close look at their own interests.

All quotes in the above article Copyright 2008 Jackson Free Press. Any use of quotes must be expressly attributed to the Jackson Free Press.

James H. Meredith
• Born: June 25, 1933, in Kosciusko
• Currently lives in Jackson
• Served in U.S. Air Force 1951-1960
• Attended JSU (formerly Jackson State College), before attempting to register at the University of Mississippi
• Became first black to attend University of Mississippi (with help from U.S. troops) on Oct. 1, 1962
• Graduated from Ole Miss after two semesters Aug. 18, 1963
• Worked for Sen. Jesse Helms from 1989 to 1991
• Shot and wounded during his March Against Fear in 1966
• Published "Three Years in Mississippi" in 1966
• Received law degree from Columbia University in 1968
• Spouse: Dr. Judy Meredith, JSU mass communications professor

March Against Fear '08
James Meredith Policy on Interviews

Previous Comments

Wow! Powerful stuff, Ladd and Adam. G-r-e-a-t interview that reminds of how often we take things for granted and forget that there are giants like Meredith among us. Having worked on some projects with Meredith years ago and knowing how brilliant and enigmatic he is, I could envison the two of you being mesmerized by him.
Thanks, Kacy. I'm always mesmerized by him. Too many people don't take to listen to him, I think. I think his deadpan humor—as in the Rhodes Scholar quip about Clinton—is my favorite part.
He IS hilarious; when I first met him it took me a while to learn that what I thought was sarcasm was often a pointed quip. And I liked not really knowing which persona would emerge each time I had the occasion to speak with him! I'm glad that so many others have now met him through JFP.
Hey folks, a (presumably white) woman who wouldn't identify herself kept calling my staff yesterday yelling because we ran this interview. She said she was going to get people together to burn the JFP because the above story divides the races. And, she said, our questions were "stupid" and contributed to the problem. She said stories like this one make Mississippi look bad and dumb. Thoughts? (This was something in these parts; we get very few complaints about coverage by phone or e-mail—beyond occasional flames on our site and others from people who have been kicked off the site for violating the User Agreement. So it was a bit of a novelty for us. ) And for the record, very few Mississippians complain about our race coverage, even as we get piles of responses from people of all races and political parties for being so diverse, inclusive and willing to discuss controversial topics. Which speaks wonderfully to the state of our state. Still, it was kind of wacky to think that this interview above was what set this woman off. Thoughts?
Oh, and for the record, Mr. Meredith told us it was the best story ever written about him—which made us feel very good. And he would use his name. ;-)
Donna, did the woman sound old enough to have been alive during the Ole Miss controversy? If so, she could be one of the folks who fought against it at the time, which would explain why she didn't identify herself. She probably does this to every news outlet who brings up Meredith.
I didn't talk to her, and she wouldn't give her name. (Sigh.) I assume not, though, based on what they said. My impression is she is one of the Mississippians who thinks it makes our state look bad to talk intelligently about our race history. Someone like that got mad at me and wrote Glamour magazine an angry letter after they featured me and Angela Chaney (James' daughter) talking about the new generation of Mississippians. I feel sorry for people with this attitude, frankly, but I have some compassion as well. They've probably been raised to think that talking about our past is bad, even with someone like James Meredith. The irony, of course, is that the state "looks" so much more intelligent when we are willing to deal with these issues. It's when we won't that we look racist and uneducated. But some of this fear still has to come out in the wash, and it will as time goes on. How far we've already come. We're getting closer to the light every day.

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