A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America

A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America

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by James Meredith

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“I am not a civil rights hero. I am a warrior, and I am on a mission from God.” —James Meredith

James Meredith engineered two of the most epic events of the American civil rights era: the desegregation of the University of Mississippi in 1962, which helped open the doors of education to all Americans; and the March Against Fear in 1966,

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“I am not a civil rights hero. I am a warrior, and I am on a mission from God.” —James Meredith

James Meredith engineered two of the most epic events of the American civil rights era: the desegregation of the University of Mississippi in 1962, which helped open the doors of education to all Americans; and the March Against Fear in 1966, which helped open the floodgates of voter registration in the South.

Part memoir, part manifesto, A Mission from God is James Meredith’s look back at his courageous and action-packed life and his challenge to America to address the most critical issue of our day: how to educate and uplift the millions of black and white Americans who remain locked in the chains of poverty by improving our public education system.

Born on a small farm in Mississippi, Meredith returned home in 1960 after nine years in the U.S. Air Force, with a master plan to shatter the system of state terror and white supremacy in America. He waged a fourteen-month legal campaign to force the state of Mississippi to honor his rights as an American citizen and admit him to the University of Mississippi. He fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court and won. Meredith endured months of death threats, daily verbal abuse, and round-the-clock protection from federal marshals and thousands of troops to became the first black graduate of the University of Mississippi in 1963.

In 1966 he was shot by a sniper on the second day of his “Walk Against Fear” to inspire voter registration in Mississippi. Though Meredith never allied with traditional civil rights groups, leaders of civil rights organizations flocked to help him complete the march, one of the last great marches of the civil rights era. Decades later, Meredith says, “Now it is time for our next great mission from God. . . . You and I have a divine responsibility to transform America.”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The last battle of the Civil War was fought in October 1962 when Meredith registered to become the first black student at the University of Mississippi. “Surveying the scene, I felt a little like Dwight Eisenhower on the eve of D-Day,” he writes. Four years later, after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Meredith was shot by a sniper. His one-man March Against Fear, intended to inspire blacks to register to vote, became the last great civil rights march, resulting in approximately 6,000 registered voters. Meredith’s mission? Nothing less than to shatter the state-enforced system of white supremacy in Mississippi, preferably with the “awesome physical force of the United States military machine.” Do not mistake him for a civil rights activist. Think Zen Warrior. Unabashedly egotistic, contrary by nature, and downright quixotic, he disagreed with Martin Luther King Jr. over the efficacy of nonviolence and worked for Sen. Jesse Helms as a domestic policy adviser. Meredith’s biggest influence was his father, a proud subsistence farmer who regarded his land as a sovereign kingdom. He resents being turned into a “feel-good icon of brotherly love and racial reconciliation.” With this lively, compelling book, part memoir and part history lesson, Meredith reminds us how far we’ve come, and urges us to go further. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“Lively, compelling book . . . . Meredith reminds us how far we’ve come, and urges us to go further.” –Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
Meredith (Three Years in Mississippi) is a loner, difficult to understand and with an oversized ego. He also owns a rightful place in American history as the first black student, with the help of 20,000 combat ready troops, to enroll in the University of Mississippi. This memoir, published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his enrollment, offers a detailed look at the events of both his time at "Ole Miss" and his March Against Fear in 1966. What the book lacks is an exploration of Meredith's emotional and mental state as he endured countless death threats and racist taunts from fellow students and was almost killed while marching to encourage black voter registration in Mississippi. He states he was never afraid because he was divinely inspired. The most fascinating part of the book may well be the last 30 pages in which Meredith describes the problems still facing the poor in this country, demands accountability from both whites and blacks, and challenges every American to help improve the public school system. VERDICT Some readers may be surprised at how much Meredith distances himself from the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King's nonviolent approach. Recommended for Meredith's own take on his past and present. Serious readers will be disappointed by the lack of an index. [See Prepub Alert, 2/20/12.]—Jason Martin, Univ. of Central Florida Libs., Orlando
Kirkus Reviews
The first black graduate of the University of Mississippi pontificates on his place in civil rights history. In this somewhat hyperbolic memoir of his challenges to white supremacy in Mississippi in the 1960s, Meredith displays little doubt of his importance to the movement. Born in Kosciusko, Miss., in 1933, Meredith was the great-grandson of the Confederate legal officer J.A.P. Campbell, who later fashioned Mississippi's code of white supremacy, and the son of a hardworking farmer with the "wisdom of a prophet" who inspired Meredith with a "divine responsibility to save the black race." Inferiority to whites was not acceptable to Meredith, and nearly a decade in the Air Force proved a severe trial, especially when the only time he experienced fairness and respect was while stationed in Japan in the late '50s. He vowed that to be a man, he had to force change back home. Completing a degree in political science at Ole Miss, the "holiest temple of white supremacy in America," had been an early dream, and his case was taken up by Medgar Evers, Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, and eventually settled by the Supreme Court. The Little Rock Nine had cracked open Arkansas's Central High School in 1957 with the help of U.S. combat troops, and Meredith, disdaining King's efforts at nonviolent civil disobedience, hoped for the same powerful display of federal force. He got it. Surrounded by troops, he stood up to Gov. Ross Robert Barnett Jr. over two fraught weeks in September 1962 as the state and its defiant white citizens staged an insurrection against the Kennedy brothers. Meredith elaborates on his becoming irresistible to women, black and white, his shooting in 1966 and his uneasy relationship with civil rights leaders and politicians, and he ends with an urgent plea for hands-on improvement to public school education. Revealing details of this fraught era couched in an overly self-aggrandizing tone.

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Product Details

Atria Books
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6.42(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.02(d)

Read an Excerpt



“You’re gonna die, nigger piece of shit!”

“We’re going to string you up and set you on fire, you fucking nigger!”

It is October 1962.

I am walking across the campus of the University of Mississippi, surrounded by a crowd of screaming young white men.

They are sometimes joined by young white women, freshly scrubbed, lipsticked, and powdered paragons of southern beauty, who run up to me and scream the most filthy combinations of curses you could ever imagine, their faces contorted in paroxysms of rage.

The men surround me in teams by day and spend their nights trying to torment me out of my sleep with noise and threats that continue all night, every night.

I am Public Enemy Number One for every racist in America. I will soon be at the top of a widely circulated “death list” of twelve Americans scheduled for assassination in Mississippi. Death threats are pouring in from across the United States, nearly one thousand so far, many detailing the gruesome ways I will be killed.

Rocks start to fly in my direction, the screaming intensifies, and the crowd surges closer. I am unarmed and wear no protective gear.

But I have no fear, not a molecule of it. The screaming is now a few feet from me, but I hear nothing, only silence. I see no faces. I am traveling in my own world. I am thinking of history, of America’s and my own, of black kings and Indian queens, of vanished ages and empires. I am thinking of generations long dead and far in the future.

I have a slight smile of serenity on my face. I have no fear.

I have no fear because I am a black man in Mississippi and to be so means I am already dead. And a dead man has nothing to fear.

I have no fear because my father sent me on this journey. He guides and inspires my every thought and step. He is invincible, and therefore so am I.

I have no fear because I am an American citizen, heir to a sacred covenant of citizenship bestowed on me by George Washington and the Founding Fathers and Mothers of the nation. Thanks to this covenant, U.S. Army soldiers and federal marshals are traveling right behind me. They are carrying guns. They are supported by a vast arsenal of thousands more guns, jeeps, helicopters, communications gear, and military personnel plugged into the most awesome instrument of physical force the world has ever seen—the American military machine.

I am literally the baddest dude on Planet Earth, more heavily guarded than the president of the United States. I am the biblical David armed with the physical force of thirty thousand Goliaths.

The mob pushes closer. I am serene, completely at peace, focused like a laser on the destination of my journey, a classroom a few hundred yards in the distance.

I am a Zen samurai. I am invincible. Nothing can harm me.

I have been put on Earth for a reason, to restore the power and glory to my bloodline, and to all Americans.

I am not a civil rights activist, I am not a protester, and I am not a pacifist. I am not a Republican and I am not a Democrat. My political affiliation is Black.

I am an American citizen, and a son of Mississippi.

I am a warrior.

And I am on a mission from God.

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A Mission From God: A Memoir and Challenge for America 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We needed this book for historical reasons, it should be required reading in every highschool in the Country. It does lack details about his emotional state during this time, but the details are riveting as he recounts his first day at Olde Miss, and his ongoing struggles as he intergrated the bastion of southern segregation. I could barely put this book down.