Civil rights speaker James Meredith offers reminder to persist
James Meredith, 82, came to North Idaho in October to speak out about racism and hate, and how today’s young people have the chance and the ability to make racism and hate something of the past.
As part of the day-long program called “Walk the Talk: James Meredith,” he spent time at the Human Rights Education Institute (HREI) at a press conference, then speaking with students at a workshop.
In the evening, he participated in a panel discussion at North Idaho College with two other Mississippians, Robert Lee Long, a reporter for the DeSoto Times Tribune and Brian Hicks, the director of the DeSoto County Museum. Two panelists from North Idaho College (NIC) were Al Williams, athletics director, and Phil Hagen, a sophomore studying electrical engineering and active in working for human rights on campus.
The audience watched a video presentation about James when he helped integrate the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in 1962 and when he was shot as he led the March Against Fear to encourage black people to vote in 1966.
The panelists attested to the importance in their lives of what he had done. His bold insistence on the equal treatment of African Americans then and since has had a major influence on many lives.
James focused on the need of young people, particularly African Americans, to learn to live out of the right and the good.
He believes there is “a moral character breakdown, because we have not been teaching our young people good and right, the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.”
Even now, 40 years later, he sees that the two major issues in our country are in the divisions between rich and poor, and in the black/white racial divide.
James said that leaders and communities are used to maintaining the status quo.
“Every study in the last two years says there is more segregation now than 40 years ago,” he said.
James wants every child, particularly from birth to five years old, to be taught right from wrong. He encouraged the college students from North Idaho to call the college students from Mississippi with that message.
“I may be out of my mind,” he said, but if they get a call from a 19-year-old, they’ll think about it, and if you think about anything long enough, you’ll do something.”
After the panel discussion, James signed copies of his book, A Mission from God, as well as other books he had brought along to sell.
On Saturday, he spoke at the University of Idaho in Moscow in a program called “Finding the Center.” He went from there, on Sunday, to Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston.
His presence in our region is a powerful reminder of our continual need, as communities of faith, to work for racial and economic justice. The work is not done. We must persist as James has persisted, each doing our part right here where we are.
North Idaho editor
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