African American Studies Meredith March against Fear
Aram Goudsouzian
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0112


The Meredith March Against Fear was a civil rights demonstration that started in Memphis, Tennessee, and ended in Jackson, Mississippi in June 1966. It is best known for introducing the slogan of “Black Power.” It began on June 5 as the endeavor of James Meredith, the man who integrated the University of Mississippi in 1962. He announced goals of registering Black voters and defying white racist intimidation. On the second day, a white racist shot and wounded him. Representatives from all the major civil rights organizations came to Memphis with the intention of continuing Meredith’s march. Ultimately, the NAACP and National Urban League declined to participate, given the militant politics of organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Martin Luther King, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), emerged as the key moderating force. Over three weeks, hundreds of marchers walked south down Highway 51 and then detoured into the Mississippi Delta, holding rallies and registering voters. In Batesville, a man named El Fondren, who had been born in slavery, registered to vote for the first time in his 106 years of life. When the march reached Greenwood, Stokely Carmichael, the new chairman of SNCC, spoke at a rally and proclaimed, “What we need now is Black Power!” The crowd responded with enthusiasm, as “Black Power” captured African Americans’ frustrations with the slow pace of federal reforms and the limits of interracial cooperation; it further articulated aspirations of Black pride and electoral power. King did not use the slogan, however, as it challenged his core principles of interracial amity and nonviolence. In the march’s final week, activists faced some harrowing violence. In the town of Philadelphia, a white mob attacked the demonstrators, and in Canton, the Mississippi Highway Patrol tear-gassed and beat hundreds of marchers who had claimed a Black elementary school as a campsite. The march ended on June 26 with an estimated 15,000 people walking through the state capital of Jackson. The Meredith March is often understood as a turning point in the civil rights movement, as it was the last mass demonstration of its kind, while Black Power grew prominent. It had a significant local impact as well, as over four thousand people registered to vote and countless more defied the culture of racial fear that characterized much of Mississippi.


Goudsouzian 2014 and Bausum 2017 are the only two books devoted specifically to the subject of the Meredith March Against Fear. Bausum’s book is rich with photographs and the text is geared to high-school-age readers. Goudsouzian’s book is a more complete account of the march. The Meredith March also figures prominently in major histories of the civil rights and Black Power eras. Branch 2006 provides a vivid, lengthy narrative description. Dittmer 1994 sees the march as an end: a “last march” after a generation of grassroots organizing in Mississippi. Joseph 2006, by contrast, tells the story of a beginning: The march spurred attention to the burgeoning Black Power movement. Carter 2009 examines the march through the lens of Lyndon Johnson’s presidential administration and its growing alienation from the Black freedom movement after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Meredith March also occupies significant space in biographies of important African American leaders in the 1960s, including Garrow 1986 on Martin Luther King and Joseph 2014 on Stokely Carmichael.

  • Bausum, Ann. The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2017.

    This illustrated, accessible introduction to the Meredith March Against Fear is pitched especially to young adult readers.

  • Branch, Taylor. At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965–68. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.

    The third and final volume of a magisterial trilogy on the civil rights movement, with Martin Luther King at its center, At Canaan’s Edge beautifully narrates the triumphs and tensions of the Black freedom struggle during these tumultuous years. It covers Lyndon Johnson’s tortured handling of the Vietnam War, the cry for Black Power, and the rising white backlash. The Meredith March spans over two long chapters.

  • Carter, David C. The Music Has Gone Out of the Movement: Civil Rights and the Johnson Administration, 1965–1968. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

    Looking at both Lyndon Johnson’s presidential administration and civil rights organizations, The Music Has Gone Out of the Movement captures the complex relationships within formal and grassroots politics. Carter explains why and how Johnson offered little support to the Meredith March, given his growing distance from the southern racial struggle.

  • Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

    This award-winning history describes the work of grassroots civil rights organizers in Mississippi from the end of World War II until the late 1960s. It includes the vital work of civil rights activists from organizations such as SNCC and the NAACP, but concentrates especially on the experiences and agency of Black Mississippians. In Dittmer’s telling, the Meredith March is a last hurrah of organizing, and the end of an era.

  • Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: William Morrow, 1986.

    The definitive one-volume biography of the central figure in the civil rights movement, Bearing the Cross devotes most of a long chapter to the Meredith March, paying particular attention to the dilemmas of Dr. King, especially in relation to the militant activists of SNCC and the new call for Black Power.

  • Goudsouzian, Aram. Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014.

    Each chapter in Down to the Crossroads chronicles one or two days of the Meredith March, using those experiences as a lens into the philosophies of its important leaders, the struggles and aspirations of grassroots activists, the plights of Black Mississippians, the evolving strategies of white segregationists, the birth of Black Power, and the state of the Black freedom struggle at this moment of political transition.

  • Joseph, Peniel E. Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of the Black Power Movement. New York: Owl Books, 2006.

    Joseph’s fast-paced narrative covers the roots, emergence, and decline of the Black Power movement in a national context. After describing the course of the Meredith March, it explains the political ramifications of Black Power, both in terms of its liberatory, galvanizing message and a conservative backlash.

  • Joseph, Peniel E. Stokely: A Life. New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2014.

    Stokely Carmichael became the chairman of SNCC in May 1966. The next month, after the Meredith March and the unveiling of Black Power, he emerged as a major figure in American politics, an heir of sorts to Malcolm X. Radicals admired him, liberals fretted about him, and conservatives blamed him for racial unrest. Joseph’s sharp political biography explains the Meredith March within Carmichael’s arc from grassroots activist to revolutionary icon.

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