In 1962, James Meredith’s first mission from God was integrating the campus of University of Mississippi amid violence and chaos. His second mission from God was in 1966, when he led the March Against Fear from Memphis headed south to Mississippi’s capital city to challenge Black Mississippians to register to vote and all of any race to challenge the racial order here. As he walked, a white supremacist shot him, sending him to the hospital, but other activists continued the journey on his behalf.
In 2021, Mr. Meredith is embarking on his third mission, a promise from God that has been more than 50 years in the making, he said.
“I promised God if I didn’t do nothing else, make people answer the question, am I fulfilling my mission to God, or am I following the teachings of Jesus Christ?” the Kosciusko, Miss., native told the Mississippi Free Press. “And God tell me to shut your mouth boy, you don’t do enough work. Shut your mouth, get out there and do some work and stop talking.”
His latest project is the Bible Society, a religious order with the goal to uplift moral character in Black families using the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Ten Commandments to reach kids and the uninstructed, he said. Immorality for Meredith means doing anything that you know isn’t right, and he doesn’t know anyone over 2 years old who doesn’t understand that concept, he says.
“If you seek to do good, everything you do will result in good. So to me, that eliminates right and wrong. I don’t have to be right to try to do the right thing. But as long as I’m seeking to do the right thing, I’m doing what God wants me to do,” the U.S. Air Force veteran said.
To become a Bible Society member, the only promise that you have to make is to read the Bible from cover to cover, Meredith said.
“It don’t have to be no time, no frame, nothing. Only the promise, but you gotta understand that’s all Jesus Christ was about was the promise. I read the Bible everyday. I read according to a schedule that within one years time; I’ll read every word in the Bible,” he said.
James Meredith said Mississippi is the most Christian place in the world, but it also can be the most hypocritical place in the world, as he also discusses in his book, “A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America.”
“That might not be what you think of Mississippi, but that’s what I thought all my life I’ve spent trying to change it,” he told me. “According to the Bible I read, most people are hypocrites. So whatever I claim to be, I’m first and foremost a hypocrite, and my goal is to become a non hypocrite.”
James Meredith turned my Friday afternoon upside down—in a good way. Initially, what I assumed would be a simple, straightforward interview regarding his Bible Society turned into a conversation about honesty for himself and the Black community as a whole. Meredith has never been one to let his fear or the opinions of others hold him back, but he is now more ready than ever to say what’s on his mind.
‘I Was Scared’
By the age of 12, James Meredith knew every book in the Bible. His father Moses Meredith, who couldn’t read, knew every book in the Bible regardless and taught his son them. He recounts to me the story of Moses, who God called to Mount Sinai to give him the Ten Commandments to rebuild a broken society.
“That’s what the Ten Commandments is designed to do, restructure, and ain’t nothing more broken now than the Black race. Nothing in the world where there are people more broken than the Blacks that survived 600 years of slavery,” Meredith said.
Meredith is blunt about his grievances with the Black community: a majority of Black babies being born in Mississippi to unwed mothers; 30-something-year-old grandparents, some of whom he knows; Black men being pushed out of the Black family.
“I’ve been promising God I was going to do this for over 50 years, but I was scared to do it because I wanted everybody to just like ole James Meredith, but I knew people didn’t like him. They didn’t want to hear him,” he said.
Mr. Meredith didn’t strike me as the type of man to concern himself with people’s opinions of him. But that would be a lie, he said, one of many lies he’s been telling himself for the 87 years he has walked this Earth.
“I’ve been wanting to get in His gate so long. He said you not gone get in there if you keep lying and not telling the truth. You got to have the audacity to tell the truth and make everybody deal with the truth,” he said.
So where do we begin, I asked him, in fixing these problems? For him, it starts with Black women over the age of 30, who are the most important people in the world, he said. They are the only people in the state who know what the Black family should be like, he said.
“I know scores of 30-year-olds with grandchildren. Anybody old enough to have a grandchild is an elder and has the responsibility of training up the children in the ways the Bible says they should train them up,” he said. “Black women in America know that it ain’t never gone change until she decides to teach the Black world.”
With the Bible Society, Meredith’s goal is to travel to all 82 counties in the state, but he’s setting his sights on making his impact on Hinds County first, he said of his adopted home.
“Hinds is the capital city. It’s the most important place in the world to me and the first place that I want to be able to tell God I’ve done is Hinds. But now until I do that, I won’t claim that,” Meredith said.
“The others will be easier because if I go anywhere and say what I’m saying to you today, I can claim that I have delivered God’s message to that place.”
The passion with which Mr. Meredith spoke and his determination made him reminiscent of a prophet. He’s always thought of himself in that way, he said, but was afraid he’d look crazy if he made that claim.
I asked Mr. Meredith if he felt like he couldn’t rest before he finished this mission, to which he laughed and said he was just happy to still be alive. “To be quite frank, I think if I don’t get up from this conversation, God is still gone finish this mission,” he said.
James Meredith has done a lot of interviews, but none where he was trying to deal with the truth, he told me.
“Every other one I ever did, including the ones I did with (the Jackson Free Press), I was trying to influence what the result would be. But this time, I only wanted my truth to come through to you,” Meredith said.