‘His third and final mission’: Why a civil rights icon stopped by the Mississippi legislature

Lobbyist and fellow Ole Miss alumnus Austin Barbour, left, speaks with James Meredith, who...
Lobbyist and fellow Ole Miss alumnus Austin Barbour, left, speaks with James Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi as its first Black student in 1962, during a visit to the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)
Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 4:00 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Heads turned when media and lobbyists spotted 88-year-old James Meredith sitting near the rotunda inside the Mississippi Legislature last week.

Meredith desegregated the University of Mississippi in 1962 as the first Black student. He also engineered the March Against Fear in 1966, which opened the floodgates of voter registration in the South.

Along his journey, he endured death threats, round-the-clock protection from federal agents, and even being shot by a sniper in Mississippi.

So, why did he appear on the second day of the 2022 legislative session?

It’s easy to assume his agenda might be focused on dismantling political powers or fighting civil rights laws.

As it turned out, Meredith stopped by the state Capitol to share the Golden Rule and Ten Commandments with decision-makers.

“It is the only solution to uplift the moral character of our people,” Meredith said with humility yet certainty in his voice.

This crusade is so heavy on Meredith’s heart; he calls it his third and final mission after his first two missions - the desegregation of Ole Miss and the March Against Fear.

He’s spent the last few years sharing his message with every county in the state, including schools, churches, and other organizations.

Now, he’s targeting leaders - to help rebuild people.

“The Ten Commandments was given to Moses by God. It is designed to rebuild a broken people, and after 400 years in Egypt as slaves, the Hebrews were a broken people,” Meredith explained. “After 600 years of slavery and segregation, which was worse than slavery - the Black race, particularly in Mississippi, but all over the world is a broken people, and we have to rebuild our society.”

Based on the book of Exodus in the Bible, the commandments are focused on rejecting idols, honoring your parents, and not killing or stealing, among other things. The Golden Rule is simply treating people the way you want to be treated.

In view of Mississippi’s alarming crime numbers, lagging education system, broken mental health systems, and less than competitive teacher salaries, what Meredith is suggesting almost sounds too simple.

But he says Mississippi has a moral character breakdown, and he vows to spend the rest of his days sharing this message with all who will listen.

“The most significant thing in the Bible to me was the statement by Jesus Christ when he said he came not to destroy the law but to fulfill the law. The law he was talking about is the Ten Commandments and the golden rule,” Meredith said passionately. “That’s Jesus’ simple answer to how to rebuild a broken society.”

He never entered legislative chambers or took center stage. Instead, he only wanted to hand-deliver his message to lawmakers to read at their leisure about these basic life principles. And he did.

At least one lawmaker noticed Meredith in the hallway and stopped.

As they reminisced about his graduation and moving to Jackson from the military, Rep. Bo Brown (D) exchanged laughs with Meredith, who he was glad to see.

“I think James has bridged the gap in the sense that he fought hatred years ago, and now he’s spreading love among mankind. From hate to love. This takes him full circle in why he’s here,” Brown said.

James Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi as its first Black student in...
James Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi as its first Black student in 1962, jokes with State Rep. Bo Brown, D-Jackson, right, as he reflected on his efforts to dismantle white supremacy and his mission to promote religious revival, during a visit to the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)

Meredith even met new faces as Lobbyist and Ole Miss alum Austin Barbour approached him.

“I had the good fortune to introduce myself to James Meredith at the Capitol this morning,” Barbour said. “We talked about the amazing life he’s lived. He reminded me he wasn’t dead yet and still had work to do.” he tweeted that day. “Mississippi is full of great people with incredible success stories.”

And Meredith’s “New Miss” cap made him hard to miss.

Suzi Altman, a photographer, is trying to trademark the logo used by the University of Mississippi to raise money to preserve Meredith’s legacy. But, Ole Miss says it is “confusingly similar” to their logo.

While Meredith said he supports the logo, he believes Ole Miss became new the moment he began classes there in the 1960s.

But now, the cap has a deeper meaning as he renews his commitment to what he hopes will be his ultimate legacy.

“I’ve been on a mission from God all my life, but the message has never been as clear,” he said.

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