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‘Down to the Crossroads’ chronicles last great march of era

2/7/2014, 6 a.m.
Historian Aram Goudsouzian will discuss “Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear” on ...
James Meredith was shot a few miles into his (then) solo March Against Fear in 1966. The photo won a 1967 Pulitzer Prize for photojournalism.

Historian Aram Goudsouzian will discuss “Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear” on Feb. 20 at the Carter Library & Museum Theater.

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Aram Goudsouzian

The free reading and book signing starts at 7 p.m.

“Down to the Crossroads” is the story of the last great march of the King era and the first great showdown of the turbulent years that followed, depicting rural demonstrators’ courage and the impassioned debates among movement leaders.

In 1962, James Meredith became a civil rights hero when he enrolled as the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi.

Four years later, he would make the news again when he re-entered Mississippi, on foot. Meredith’s plan was to walk from Memphis to Jackson, leading a “March Against Fear” that would promote black voter registration and defy the entrenched racism of the region.

But on the march’s second day, he was shot by a mysterious assailant, a moment that was captured in a harrowing and now iconic photograph.

What followed was one of the central dramas of the civil rights era.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael later came to finish the March Against Fear.

With Meredith in the hospital, the leading figures of the civil rights movement flew to Mississippi to carry on his effort. They quickly found themselves confronting Southern law enforcement officials, local activists, and one another.

In the span of only three weeks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. narrowly escaped a vicious mob attack; protesters were tear-gassed by state police; President Lyndon Johnson refused to intervene; and the charismatic young activist Stokely Carmichael first led the chant that would define a new kind of civil rights movement: Black Power.

Goudsouzian, chairman of the Department of History at the University of Memphis, reveals the legacy of an event that would both integrate African-Americans into the political system and inspire even bolder protests against it.

Goudsouzian is also author of “King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution,” “The Hurricane of 1938,” and “Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon.”

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum is at 441 Freedom Parkway in Atlanta.

For more information, visit www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov or call 404-865-7100.