MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The city of Memphis and Shelby County honored one of the greatest living civil rights leaders Monday by naming a downtown building after James Meredith.
As the man who integrated the University of Mississippi, Meredith is a truly special piece of history – and yet he felt a large amount of honor Monday, being recognized in the city where his March against Fear began back in 1966.
“This is the most important occasion in my life,” Meredith said.
That’s saying a lot coming from a man who is a living civil rights icon, but having the Shelby County Office Building at 157 Poplar Ave. named in his honor was something Meredith never could have imagined when he walked by it 53 years ago.
“The March against Fear started at the Peabody Hotel. And this was the first major building that I walked past,” he said.
For African American leaders who attended Monday’s event in downtown Memphis, Meredith is a hero, someone whose bravery can still be used today.
“The idea of civil rights for African Americans was unpopular in many circles,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said. “In fact, I’m sure it made some folks downright mad. But that’s leadership.”
Meredith brought a bus full of young students with him from his home in Jackson, Mississippi to see the event in Memphis.
“Bravery is not the absence of fear. It is the ability to overcome fear in very difficult situations,” said Joe Young with the Shelby County Election Commission. “And I admire you so much for doing that.”
With Mississippi and Tennessee still near the bottom of voter turnout across the country, Meredith’s lessons about representation at the polls are just as relevant today as they were decades ago.
“Iit has resonance where we sit right here today, where voting will begin soon enough,” Harris said. “So thanks for your courage, thanks for your leadership, thanks for your advocacy for all of us.”