From the lips of over a hundred interviewees came memories of violence, tension, and excitement, but none of those tales struck Dr. Aram Goudsouzian like the words of one Mississippian, Elsie Dorsey. At Rhodes College’s latest Communities in Conversation lecture, the author remembered her words: “She said, ‘You could hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of the marching, and then silence. There was something perfect about that moment of beautiful silence.’”
Goudsouzian, the chair of the history department at the University of Memphis, released a new book in February. Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear digs into “a story that belongs to many others.” The narrative tells readers about the three-week march through Mississippi that started with James Meredith, and ended with hoards of strong voices standing together for their rights. By the end, marchers saw notable faces, including Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The “March Against Fear” was a monumental moment for the civil rights movement in the South. Goudsouzian said, “[Down to the Crossroads] is not just a political story, but a human story.” His goal in writing it all down was to find out “what does it mean for actual people?” The author said this one march, through the small southern state, helped to shape national action.
Down to the Crossroads tells the story of how Meredith’s march spawned the birth of the rallying cry “Black Power.” Goudsouzian said the words were “defying the culture of fear” among the unrest and unhappy people.
Sabriyya Shaw, a homeschooled ninth-grader, said, “I’m a history person just like my dad, and the story of Black Power was so cool.” Shaw enjoyed the lecture, and was happy to hear details of Stokely Carmichael’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, as she called it.
A woman in the audience, whom Goudsouzian said he regretted he had not met earlier, stood and spoke up about her involvement in the march. “It gave me a sense of who I was,” said the woman, who was just 16 years old at the time.
“Everyone should have their march” was repeated several times during the evening. “I tried to take everyone on their own terms,” the author said when he referenced the interviews he conducted to write Down to the Crossroads. The book shows that the story was for all people, even those not on the actual march, said the author.
Jon Casey, a Memphis-based web developer, was thrilled to learn new details about Meredith’s march. “As a native Mississippian, the stories of our past are fascinating [to me],” he said. “I’m always interested to better understand how we got to where we are today.”
The author said Black Power and the Meredith march took on many forms for different individuals across the nation, but the book’s title was the clearest decision he made in his writing. “At the crossroads the choices you make have unending consequences,” he said. “And as for Meredith, he walks on.”