John Meredith speaks at Bob Jones about his father’s civil rights legacy

John Meredith spoke to Bob Jones freshmen about his father, James Meredith. (PHOTO / KENNEDY BOOKER)
John Meredith spoke to Bob Jones freshmen about his father, James Meredith. (PHOTO / KENNEDY BOOKER)

MADISON – John Meredith, son of civil rights icon James Meredith, recently spoke to approximately 400 freshmen at Bob Jones High School.

John Meredith’s visit connected the freshmen’s required reading of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” to the 1960s’ Civil Rights movement.

In 1962, James Meredith’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi resulted in U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy ordering a military escort. Meredith graduated from Ole Miss in 1963 and then earned a juris doctorate degree at Columbia University.

A life-size statue of James Meredith now stands between the Lyceum and library at Ole Miss.

English teacher Charlotte Jackson invited Meredith after meeting him at Kroger in Madison. “He was wearing an Ole Miss cap, and I stated that I liked his hat. Later, he came to me and asked if I was from Mississippi,” Jackson said.

Jackson and Meredith realized they both are Ole Miss graduates. Meredith gave Jackson his business card. “I noticed he was an advocate and lobbyist,” Jackson said.

For the freshmen, Meredith spoke about life for black Americans in the early 1960s and his father’s difficulty in integrating Ole Miss. His slides showed burned-out buses, freedom walks and his father after being shot while attempting to walk from Memphis, Tenn. to Jackson, Miss.

“His father instilled in him an appreciation for the value of education … and the perspective of forgiveness,” Jackson said.

Surprisingly, Meredith did not discuss racism in America today. Tying in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Meredith discussed Lee’s motivation to write the book and her growing up in a time when “she saw injustice towards blacks,” Jackson said.

“I personally thought John did an excellent job. He achieved what all teachers try to achieve: he moved the students forward in their understanding (of the Civil Rights movement) and held their attention the entire time,” Jackson said.

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