By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The pace of change has increased rapidly in the 50 years since James Meredith made history by becoming the first black student enrolled at Ole Miss, but some issues still remain.
Meredith spoke to an audience at the Lee County Library on Friday about problems that still exist within Mississippi’s black community.
“The public education system is as near to a complete breakdown as could be,” he said. “That’s because 90 percent of the problems we are trying to fix are already out of hand. Prevention is better than cure.”
Meredith said the breakdown of moral character among Mississippians has destroyed the family unit. Without the support of a sound household, children arrive at school lacking the foundation needed to learn.
“Our black students are coming into schools without knowing their ABCs or how to sit still,” he said. “If they haven’t been taught right from wrong, how can we expect them to do right inside any kind of system?”
In his new book, “A Mission from God,”Meredith places the burden of solving this problem on the church.
He argues churches should take it upon themselves to educate every child within a two-mile radius under 5 years old.
“The government can’t fix this problem, as much as it might want to,” he said. “When slavery ended, the education of blacks was done largely through the black church. Mississippi is still the center of the black-white universe.”
Meredith said black Christians in Mississippi know the Bible and its teachings word for word, but have trouble executing them.
“Christ instructed the church to carry on his way after his death,” he said. “But we ask, ‘What is going to happen to me if I help this child,’ when we should ask, ‘What is going to happen to that child if I don’t help.’”
Meredith said he felt it was God’s direction to him to spread his message, especially in his home state, a state that, to him, is of utmost importance.
“Mississippi has a spirit I have never experienced anywhere else,” he said. “We just have to make up our mind which way we’re going to go. I believe we are well-equipped to go from the bottom to the top.”