MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A man who risked his life to get African Americans to vote, now has a Shelby County building named after him. And this fall, many a Memphian will vote there.
James Meredith was the first African-American admitted to the University of Mississippi in 1962. In 1966, he started a walk from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi to encourage voter registration. The walk nearly killed him. He returned to Memphis on Monday, September 9th, 2019 as a hero, honored for his bravery.
"I'm here to tell you how much I admire your bravery," said Joe Young, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Shelby County Election Commission, speaking at the dedication ceremony.
Young was one of the first black students to integrate Memphis' Rozelle Elementary. James Meredith, he said, is what got him through the hard times.
“It made all those walks home where people followed us,” said Young. “Where they threw rocks and bottles and spat at us, where a troubling thing happened each day on the way to and from school, when I saw the example you set. I thought to myself, I could at least do that."
Meredith endured harassment and death threats when he enrolled at Ole Miss during a time of civil unrest. It took the federal government getting involved to make it happen, an action that only occurred after Meredith, with help from Medgar Evers and the NAACP, sued to gain admission. And four years later, when he set out on a 220 mile walk from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi to encourage voter registration, he was shot by a white man on day two.
Meredith survived and finished the walk, along with thousands of others now joining his cause.
Monday, Memphis and Shelby County leaders dedicated 157 Poplar as the James Meredith Building. Memphians will vote in the building in the October municipal election.
"This is the most important occasion and day in my life," Meredith told the crowd of supporters, family members and friends, "most of my fight against Mississippi started in Memphis, Tennessee."
A bus load of high school students from Jackson made the trip to the Bluff City to witness the historic occasion.
“He paved the way for all of us,” said high school senior Davante Horton. “I want to attend Ole Miss and for him being so brave to pave the way for many students is an inspiration to me.”
Generations young and old honored the civil rights pioneer.
“Leadership is really courage,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. “And leadership and courage is the idea you’re willing to take on something unpopular, something that makes some people downright mad.”
James Meredith, now 86 years old, graduated from Ole Miss with a political science degree and went on to earn a law degree from Columbia University.
Memphis residents will start voting in the James Meredith Building this Friday, September 13, when early voting begins in the city election.