My James Meredith journey by Tommy Williams

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James Meredith (seated) with Tommy Williams

Contributed By:The 411 News

His father-in-law told him, “Don’t bring that boy back here again”

A 1-hour documentary, including credits, tells the story of Gary’s Tommy Williams friendship with James Meredith.

In 1962, the federal government intervened on Meredith’s behalf to enroll in the University of Mississippi, one of the pivotal moments in the U.S. civil rights era of the 1950-60s.

Their first meeting, in the summer of 1960 at a bookstore on the campus of Jackson State University in Jackson, MS left Williams perplexed.

Didn’t I see you in Gary this summer, Williams asked.

Yes, my wife is from Gary, Meredith said and asked Williams why he was here.

Williams said he was studying at Jackson State and his wife was teaching nearby. Why are you here, Williams asked.

Meredith’s answer, “I’m here to break the backs of white supremacists all over America.”

They have been friends since and still travel together today. Williams introduced Meredith to his second wife, another Gary native.

Archived news clips show the tensions of those times coming from the Oxford campus of Ole Miss when Meredith arrived and was met by rioting, angry whites. In Washington, D.C., President John Kennedy faced off with the defiant Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett who pledged that Meredith would not enter Ole Miss, his alma mater.

All played out on television. In those days the news hour was just that, or less, once a day. With their dinner the public watched the evening news with civil rights protests consuming the nation.

Not seen by television cameras, Williams tells his WLTH talk show co-host LaTrice Long, are the fears and anxieties of those outside the maelstrom. Meredith was scorned by some Blacks in Mississippi as stirring up trouble. He’s unwelcome in the home of a friend who fears retaliation on his job “if they know I’m associating with you.”

“Even my father-in-law told me ‘Don’t bring that boy back here again,’” Williams said.

In Williams’ dialogues with Meredith, they examine racism and segregation, and how some social and economic institutions benefitted. Meredith tells Williams, the greatest things ever done were the nation’s ideal that all men are created equal and the U.S. Constitution; adding. the nation’s greatest test will be how to live up to them.

The University of Mississippi dedicated a monument to Meredith in 2006. Ever so often, comes news of his statue being defaced.

 

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