The March Against Fear
One minute James Mededith was walking along a rural road in
Mississippi, two days into an estimated two-week-long journey to the
state capital of Jackson. The next minute a stranger had climbed out
of the roadside honeysuckle and started shooting him.
The first blast from the 16-gauge shotgun spewed tiny balls of
ammunition toward the hiker, but the pellets struck the pavement
nearby, not Meredith himself.
Undeterred, the gunman fired again."
Meredith was not a recreational hiker or someone trying to lose
weight. He was fed up with the plight of his people. Mississippi was
rife with racism. Its blacks lived in dire poverty in a segregated
society. In a cruel twist, the whites who drastically limited their
prospects wrote off their lack of advancement as innate laziness and
lack of ability. They also had ways of keeping blacks in "their" place.
Meredith was trying to send a message: stop being afraid; stand
up to the oppressor. Fortunately he was not killed. However, he was
in no shape to resume his walk with many shotgun pellets (after 70 had
been removed) embedded in his body.
Although Meredith could no longer walk, others could walk in his
place. That's just what they did. Leading civil rights leaders
including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael organized a
massive march that would continue from where Meredith had fallen. It
would be the most monumental march of the civil rights era. It would
also be the last one. Ann Bausum's The March Against Fear tells the
story of this almost forgotten event.
The organizers and marchers were plenty challenged. The
logistics of arranging for food and camping spaces for hundreds of
people over an extended period of time were formidable. The weather
was often extremely hot and humid. That was well before the day of
the disposable water bottle. They often met up with whites behaving
And then there were internal challenges as more radical marchers
added a demand for black power to the mix while others feared that
white supporters would be alienated.
The powerful combination of narrative and photographs (exactly
what one can expect from a National Geographic book) make the reader
feel like she/he/they is marching down that hot highway. Issues
raised can provide food for thought long after the last page is
turned. If you care at all about justice in America make sure to read
The March Against Fear.
The part of the book that stood out most for me is a special
feature at the end of each chapter. Each page is black with a black
broken line across the middle suggesting a highway. On the top there
is a quote from a march participant or sympathizer. On the bottom is
a quote from someone on the other side. For example:
"It is time to stop being ashamed of being black. It is time to
stop trying to be white. When you see your daughter playing in the
fields, with her nappy hair, and her wide nose, and her thick lips,
tell her she is beautiful. Tell your daughter she is beautiful."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"They can pass all the laws they want, but niggers'll still have
black faces. Where's this gonna end? I'll tell you. It's gonna end
when we mow 'em down, mow 'em down."
[white barbershop client]
On a personal note, at the back of the book there is a Stokely
Carmichael quote: "For racism to die, a totally different America
must be born." I have just started writing an opinion piece
challenging the dangerous myth that America is or ever has been a
classless society. I realize more and more how enmeshed this belief
is. So I'd have to say, "For classism to die, a totally different
America must be born." Both statements mean that denying the problem
or making merely superficial changes aren't enough.
A great big shout out goes out to all who work to reverse the twin
evils of race and class prejudice.
Sent from my iPod