JACKSON, Miss. – Civil rights icon James Meredith fell outside the Mississippi Capitol on Sunday at an event marking his 90th birthday, but he suffered no visible injuries and was resting comfortably at home later.
Meredith leaned onto an unsecured portable lectern as he stood to speak to about 200 people. The lectern toppled forward, and he fell on top of it. Those around him quickly scrambled to stand Meredith up upright, and they helped him back into the wheelchair he had been using. People also gave him ice packs and cold water as the temperature hovered at about 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius).
Meredith remained at the event until it ended about 45 minutes later. An ambulance crew checked him afterward, and Meredith then left in a sport utility vehicle with friends and family.
His wife, Judy Alsobrooks Meredith, said in a text message to The Associated Press hours later that he was at home with family.
“He's enjoying his birthday cake now,” she said. “He's tougher than anybody I've ever known.”
Meredith was already an Air Force veteran in 1962 when he became the first Black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi, after winning a federal court order. White mobs rioted on the Oxford campus as federal marshals protected Meredith.
In 1966, Meredith set out to promote Black voting rights and to prove that a Black man could walk through Mississippi without fear. On the second day of his planned walk from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, a white man with a shotgun shot and wounded Meredith on a highway.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement continued Meredith's march in his absence, and Meredith recovered enough to join them for the final stretch. About 15,000 people rallied outside the Mississippi Capitol on June 26, 1966.