The March Against Fear: how a historic civil rights protest began with one and ended with 15,000 protestors

Stephen Nartey February 07, 2023
Meredith March Against Fear/Photo via: Stanford University

The 1966 “March Against Fear” was meant to be a 270-mile walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi to protest against the deliberate attempt to disenfranchise Black voters. James Meredith, the protagonist of the solitary walk, had already stoked racial flames by becoming the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi.

After desegregating the school, he wanted to respond to a higher call by raising awareness on voter registration among African Americans in Mississippi and getting the same to register, according to National Archives.

But, even before he could cover a quarter of the mile he had set for himself, Meredith was shot by a white sniper, James Norvell. Historians explained that the decision to embark on a solitary walk in a segregated South was suicidal. The terrain was notorious for its violence against African Americans.

Taking on a sensitive subject without security or support from the civil rights movement suggested he had signed his death warrant. He was however not oblivious to what he was up against. He only needed the political elite to address a teething issue affecting black voters.

The act of intimidation did not stop the campaign against racism and deliberate voter discrimination from proceeding. When the civil rights movement learned of his ordeal, it galvanized the base of the various activists and organizations such as the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Congress of Racial Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. They ensured Meredith was taken to the hospital and they joined forces to continue with the walk, according to BlackPast.

Armed escorts were provided by the Deacons for Defense and Justice as they moved through the designated places Meredith had planned to walk. The demonstrators were provided with food by the black community as they marched. Other white institutions like the Holy Child Jesus Catholic Church in Canton, Mississippi, also helped feed them.

They were entertained by notable artists like James Brown, Dick Gregory, Sammy Davis Jr., Burt Lancaster, and Marlon Brando when they got to Tougaloo College, a historically black school. An estimated 15,000 protestors had participated in what was meant to be a solitary march by Meredith, making it one of the largest civil protests in the history of Mississippi. Meredith rejoined the march when he was fully healed.

More than 4,000 new voters had registered in Black Mississippi Delta counties after the end of the march on June 26. This was in spite of the threats, intimidation, arrests as well as friction among leadership and conflict over the use of the slogan “Black Power” during the march, as reported in Stanford Libraries.

It was at the “March Against Fear” that Stokely Carmichael made his “Black Power” declaration in an address encouraging black pride and self-determination.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 7, 2023


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