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James H. Meredith, "Big Changes Are Coming"
Saturday Evening Post, August 13, 1966

It was the first town I had come to in Mississippi. I saw white faces at the windows, and white men standing in front of their shops or staring blankly from the lawns of their homes. I didn't see any Negroes. At least, I didn't see them anywhere around the main street. But they were waiting for me when I walked into the main square of the town. Some of them had been there for two hours, standing together on the far side of the square. There were young men and old, children with pure young faces and old men bent with age. Most were wearing the long blue overalls of cotton-field workers, and they did not seem to know what to do. Some looked away, some stared at the ground. All of them were aware of the group of whites, silent and sullen, who watched us from the far side of the square.

I walked up to the group of Negroes and started shaking handsà I urged them to register to vote, because that was one of the keys to the future, and they said, "We're gonna register, we're gonna register." And then we went around to a café to have something to eat. I was eating a cheeseburger and drinking a glass of milk, when an old Negro farmer came over and pressed a dollar bill in my hand. He had probably never earned more than $300 in a single year. "You just keep that," he said. "You just keep that." I still had that dollar bill in my pocket a few hours later when my back was riddled by shots fired from ambush.

Copyright © 1966 BFL&MS, Inc.  Selected from the Library of America anthology.  See  Reporting  Civil  Rights:  American Journalism 1963-1973.