The Shooting of James Meredith by Jack Thornell
Episode #5 of the course “Pulitzer prize-winning photos”
The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was at a peak in 1966. A Tennessee man named James Meredith had gained attention four years earlier by becoming the first black man to be integrated at the University of Mississippi. In 1966, he led a “March Against Fear” in which he planned to walk 220 miles from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi to show fellow black citizens of the south that they should not fear oppressive white social conditions. He planned to register to vote at the completion of his walk. On the second day, while being accompanied by three police cars, news photographers, a few friends, and FBI agents, a white man named Aubrey James Norvell opened fire on Meredith, shooting him three times—in the shoulder, chest, and leg as he dove to the ground for cover. He cried out, “Oh my God!” as his expression twisted with shock.
26-year-old junior AP photographer Jack Thornell had not been overjoyed when he was assigned to cover Meredith’s march. As luck would have it, one of the other reporters in the press car had stepped away from watching Meredith’s walk to purchase Coca-Colas for everyone. After the shots rang out, Thornell took one picture of Meredith on the ground before the pressmen jumped into their vehicle for safety.
At the hospital the following day, Meredith was visited by several prominent civil rights figures, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Meredith’s injuries turned out to be superficial, and he was able to rejoin the walk for its conclusion. Thornell won the Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for his image, “The Shooting of James Meredith,” which captured the heightened emotion and turmoil of the social moment.
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