Interview with Cleveland Sellers

James Meredith gets shot. When did, when did you first hear about this and what did you do?


When James Meredith was shot, Stokely and I and, and some of the other SNCC people were doing assessment and inventory of our staff and projects across the South. We were in Little Rock Arkansas at the point where James Meredith was shot. And we immediately recognized that, ah, we needed to respond and we went to Memphis, Tennessee. In Memphis we met with, ah, Martin King and Floyd McKissick and some of the other leaders had come in from around the country. Ah, in looking at the march we recognized that, that Meredith was planning to march through what was essentially the second congressional district in Mississippi. That was the area that we had all worked in in the summer of '64 and through 1965. So we felt comfortable that we knew many of the people that were going to intricately involved or could be intricately involved in giving the march some perspective and focus. Ah, at that point we, we seized upon the opportunity to, ah, go forward and encouraged that the march would continue. Ah, on the first day, ah, Floyd McKissick and Martin King and, and Stokely and myself and, ah, a few other people went out to continue the march. We thought that the, the, ah, theme of the march, March Against Fear, was very important. And we thought that, not following through on that, would send a negative message to Black, to the Black community and, and a very positive message to the White Citizen Council and Ku Klux Klan types. So we thought that it was important that we continue the march. We also thought that it was an opportunity to begin to raise the question of Blacks controlling their own destiny. We were in an area that was almost 70% Black, the second congressional district, and we felt like we could begin to talk about, ah, registering to vote and we talked about empowerment and we talked about using the model in Lowndes County to adopt it to, to Mississippi. We also believed that, ah, that it was time for the Black community to take the responsibility for assuring that it had a successful march. We had seen Selma and we had seen Albany, Georgia and we had seen Birmingham where we had an en--entourage of press and leaders and they would come in and once the objective was reached, their objective was reached, they would leave and leave a vacuum and leave a lot of frustration. And we wanted people to share in, if there was going to be a march, share in the leadership development, share in making decisions on what the march objectives were. We wanted them to share in providing the resources, share in the actual marching. So we, we said that, that what the Mississippi Meredith March could be, could be a showcase, a focal point where we can begin to talk about doing, ah, programs differently from the way they had been done across the South prior to that time.