— Mississippi Freedom Trail —
James Meredith began his Memphis-to-Jackson
"March Against Fear" on June 4, 1966, challenging
a'the all-pervasive and overriding fear" that kept
black Mississippians from registering to vote. On
the second day, south of Hernando, a white man
emerged from the roadside and shot Meredith three
times, wounding him, Major civil rights leaders
Including Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King,
Jr., Floyd McKissick, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney
Young converged in Hernando to continue the
march to the State Capitol. Meredith recovered
sufficiently by June 26th to join the rally
there, where, along with others, he addressed
the largest crowd assembled for the cause of
civil rights in the state's history.
, who had integrated the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1962, hoped that his June 1966 "March Against Fear" from Memphis to Jackson would set an example of courage to African Americans in Mississippi, encouraging them to register to vote, He also sought popular attention, as he was considering running for governor or lieutenant governor in the 1967 election.
On the first day of the march, Sunday, June 5, Meredith left Memphis from the Peabody Hotel and walked with a small, unprotected group through the city without incident. In suburban Whitehaven he encountered
hecklers waving Confederate flags. About thirty cars of whites, gathered to block him, were dispersed by the Tennessee state police before the marchers arrived. The next day, June 6, as the marchers crossed the state line into Mississippi, they were accompanied by the DeSoto County sheriff and deputies, Mississippi highway patrolmen, and FBI agents. In the DeSoto county seat of Hernando, Meredith was received warmly by about 150 African Americans, but south of Hernando, about 4:00 p.m. the group received a warning: an armed man had been observed on the road ahead. A few miles later, a man appeared from roadside woods and shouted "James Meredith! James Meredith!" then "I only want James Meredith!" before shooting him three times with a shotgun loaded with birdshot.
The Hernando ambulance took Meredith to a Memphis hospital; the Associated Press misunderstood a report and announced that James Meredith was dead, later correcting the statement. On hearing news of the incident, comedian Dick Gregory staged a reverse walk from Hernando to Memphis, while major civil rights leaders converged in Hernando to continue the March Against Fear to Jackson. During the next few weeks, Stokely Carmichael (SNCC), Martin Luther King Jr. (SCLC), Floyd McKissick (CORE), Roy Wilkins (NAACP), and Whitney Young (Urban League), among others, led the march, including rallies in Greenwood, Philadelphia,
and Canton that would have lasting effects on the movement. The march culminated in the largest civil rights rally at the State Capitol in the history of the state. The shooter, Memphian Aubrey James Norvell, was apprehended three minutes after the assault. Firearms experts said Meredith survived due only to Norvell's bad aim. Meredith recovered sufficiently to rejoin the marchers at Tougaloo College and the Capitol rally in Jackson.