by Brian Lamar, Staff Writer
Time has carved a path through the racial and political landscape of the State of Mississippi. That path has left lasting scars for us to remember not where we have come but how far we still have to go.
Civil Rights icon, James Meredith is one living reminder of the cruelty of racism in this state.
Back in 1962, James Meredith, the first African American to be admitted to Ole Miss was escorted up the front steps of the administration building to register for classes with U.S. Marshalls by his side ensuring a successful day.
This week, Meredith, who has fought for equal rights for African Americans walked up the front steps of the auditorium of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College multi-purpose theatre to speak to a crowd about his life, his goals for the future of the state and his philosophy on today’s civil rights.
Meredith talked about his struggles while being shot by a sniper during his 1960’s civil-rights march across Mississippi coined “March Against Fear”.
This event with Meredith as the guest speaker was planned by Leonard Papania, the former City of Gulfport Police Chief and current City Administration Officer and City of Gulfport Police Chief Chris Ryle as a springboard to begin discussions about the City’s community action plan and the “Before the Bullet” campaign.
According to an introduction by the City of Gulfport Police Chief Chris Ryle, violence has plagued the city for years. He and Papania are working on an action plan titled “Before the Bullet” for the city to break down barriers of poverty and race by identifying at-risk people in the city and focusing on prevention.
This candid discussion with Meredith is a partnership that ties into that action plan to give residents insider information how race issues that persist in Mississippi can be confronted.
During Meredith’s session, he focused on Christian Doctrine and how those lessons can be applied to modern times. Additionally, he believes that poverty, crime and poor public education found throughout the state are all pieces of a puzzle that Gulfport PD is trying to solve for Gulfport.
Meredith also laid the blame at the feet of the elders in the black community. According to him, black elders are failing the black youth in this state.
“The old folks of Mississippi have to do their job. Prevention is far better than a cure. The future Mississippi now depends on what the elders of the people do or not,” said Meredith.
He believes that the elders have lost their status as leaders due to fear.
For the elders of today, when we see a child in need. We don’t need to ask, ‘What will happen to me when I help this child’. The question should be, ‘What will happen to this child if I don’t help,’ he explained.
Meredith also blames the church for its failings as well.
“This black-white thing is extremely complicated. The Mississippi church is an incomplete church and it also goes back to the legacy of slavery. And for whatever reason, nobody has had the courage to deal with the legacy of slavery or the consequences of segregation. I think that only the church can deal with that,” he said.
“Mississippi is more segregated on every Sunday morning than any other time,” Meredith added regarding the natural nature of blacks and whites in Mississippi to segregate themselves.
Before the conclusion of the event, he explained his position on race issues as a sort of homework for the audience.
“I think the only real solution is so simple. The teaching of the ten commandments and the golden rule. Just those two things, if anyone deals with them, they will come to the right answer. This race thing is so deep. The hate and bitterness are rooted in a different problem. The real problem is class, but race is convenient for everybody. That is the term we use to keep from dealing with the real issues,” he said.