This hat was worn by a participant in the June 1966 March Against Fear, a 220-mile trek between Memphis,Tennessee, and Jackson, Mississippi, by civil rights activists demonstrating on behalf of Black voter registration and against chronic racist violence in the Delta region. The march originated as a solo gesture by James Meredith, a U.S. Air Force veteran who had come to national attention in 1962 when, amid days of rioting by whites on the Oxford, Mississippi, campus of the University of Mississippi, he desegregated that institution, which had rejected him twice.
Four years later, waving off major movement organizations, Meredith proposed to encourage Black Americans to register to vote and to protest racism by walking from Memphis to Jackson accompanied only by Black men on what he called the “Meredith March Against Fear.”
On June 7, his second day of marching, Meredith, walking stick and Bible in hand and escorted by police, was on Highway 51 near Hernando, Mississippi, when from hiding former hardware clerk Aubrey James Norvell of Memphis shotgunned the activist, wounding him in the back, legs, and head. Meredith was hospitalized in Memphis. Tried for assault, Norvell became the first white person in Mississippi convicted of shooting a Black person, according to the Desoto Times.
Spurred by the shooting, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee organizer Stokely Carmichael and other activists, along with everyday people, crowded the route to Jackson. On the way, Carmichael gave an impromptu speech in which he popularized the slogan “Black Power!”
By the time the demonstration reached Mississippi’s state capital on June 26, 1966, Meredith had returned to the march, now a procession of an estimated 10,000 marchers.
Meredith, now 88, lives in Jackson with his wife, Judy Alsobrooks.
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