Meredith speaks at community center

Published 11:18 am Monday, May 5, 2014

James Meredith

Blacks in Mississippi have the best opportunities now to improve their communities and public school systems, civil rights pioneer James Meredith said Saturday.

“Right now, if we want to change every public school in Mississippi and make it the best school possible, ain’t nobody going to stop us,” he told about 40 people at a spring P.E.E.R program for youth at the Kings Community Empowerment Center. “They might make it difficult, but they’re not going to stop it. Our future is in our hands. But if we don’t do nothing, it ain’t going to be done by anybody else.

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“For the first time in my life, black people in Mississippi and all across America can do whatever needs to be done to improve their lives,” said Meredith, the first black student to attend Ole Miss. “But we still want to blame somebody else for our condition, and then feel like they owe us. Even if they owe us, they ain’t going to pay it.”

He said the pubic school system in Mississippi “was literally destroyed because the whites didn’t need it. There’s not a white child in the state of Mississippi who is not 25 minutes from an academy. The only people today in Mississippi who need public schools is black people and poor folks.”

Drawing on his life, he said blacks in Mississippi “must return to common sense. My daddy told me the most important things in life are common sense and know-how.”

“Most of my life happened before I was born,” he said. “My life story is what God did for me before I was born.”

He said his grandmother, an educated woman who was prohibited from educating her children, taught them every chapter of the Bible and the 10 Commandments. He said his father was one of the founders of the first black elementary school in Attala County, and he started kindergarten at 3 years old.

“By age 4, I knew my ABCs,” he said. “More importantly than that, I knew right from wrong, good from bad and how to apply it to life. At the dinner table, my father said grace and we children had to give our Bible verse.

“By 12, I had learned every book in the Bible from my father, even though he could not read a single page in the Bible he used. I was well over 50 years of age before I realized what my father taught me.”

Everything he has been able to do since, Meredith said, “I have done because I was taught the 10 Commandments at the age of five years old.”

Part of the key to improving education and communities, he said, is for black churches to begin teaching young children the 10 Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.

“No one can teach a child anything that they cannot get to sit still and pay attention,” he said. “No child can sit still and pay attention that does not know right and wrong, good and bad, and how to apply them to life. The best way to teach a child good and bad is to teach them the 10 commandments and the Lord’s Prayer by age 5.”

Meredith called Mississippi “the most Christian place in the world. The black churches in Mississippi are the most Christian of all. There is not a black in Mississippi that does not live within walking distance of a black church.”

If every black church in Mississippi took the responsibility of teaching every child five years old and younger the 10 Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer by the age of 5, he said, “Mississippi will show the world how to solve the problem of training young black children like the Bible tells us.”

Recalling the parable of the Good Samaritan, he said many people act like the passersby who refused to help the beaten robbery victim lying in the road.

“They probably asked the wrong question: ‘What will happen to me if I help this man?’

“Like the elders of today, if we see a child in need of guidance, we ask ourselves: ‘What will happen to me if I help this child?’ The question should be: ‘What will happen to this child if I don’t do my duty?’

“The biggest thing, whatever happens to black people, depends on what we do,” Meredith said. “It depends on nothing else.”

For the first time, he said, blacks have the opportunity to make schools “as good as they used to be. If you want to make the public schools in Warren County the best in the state, no one’s going to stop you. We’ve got a bad situation, but we’ve got the capacity and the know-how to make it better.”

“We are free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, free at last. But we’d be foolish if we don’t take advantage of this freedom.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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