Declaring a "divine responsibility" to lead the black race, civil rights pioneer James Meredith lambasted white liberals as the true enemies of black advancement.
"My agenda is to take the power away from the white liberals and give it back to the head of each black family," Meredith told the audience at Shriver Hall on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University last night.
He blamed most black problems on a breakdown in morals and the disintegration of the family. "The single biggest breakdown in the black family is the lack of moral training," he said.
Meredith rose to prominence in 1962 when he was the first black to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Four years later, he was shot by a sniper when he led a voting rights march in Mississippi.
Three years ago, Meredith again gained attention when he became a staff aide to arch-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. In August, he was back in the news when he accused delegates at the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of being "involved in the drug culture" or engaged "in criminal or immoral activities."
In his speech at Hopkins, he alleged that Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court's only black member, conspired to keep Meredith out of the University of Mississippi in exchange for a job in the Kennedy administration.
"Since Baltimore is his home town, I thought you all should know what your favorite son is really like," Meredith said.
While the mostly student audience was polite, several pressed Meredith on what exactly his plans were for blacks and what proof he had for the allegation about Marshall.
In response, Meredith offered attacks on the welfare system and vague calls for restoring the black family. As to the Marshall allegation, he offered no proof but said the justice certainly knew how to sue him for libel if it was untrue.
Some of the most pointed questions were about his association with Helms, who has fought domestic programs favored by many blacks and has defended South Africa's white minority government.
He said he was allied with Helms because Helms is "the individually most powerful politician in America." Another reason that Meredith has tried to convince people for 27 years that he is not a liberal. "I knew that when I became associated with Jesse Helms, everybody would know that I wasn't a liberal."
"I never asked him [Helms] what he thought, but I really don't care," Meredith said. "I'm concerned about my agenda. And my agenda is to make the black race free and viable and in charge of their business."
"God didn't tell me that Jesse Helms was supposed to lead the black race. He told me that's my job," Meredith said.
He ended his speech by expressing doubt that most of the audience understood it. "As long as you are brainwashed by these white liberals, you're never going to get the point," he said.
Meredith's speech was part of the 1990 Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium, which this year is titled: "Dreams Deferred: Perspectives on Race Relations."
Events to be held on Homewood Campus. For information call 338-8209.
* Nov. 8: Taylor Branch, author of Parting the Waters, on "The Riddle of Moses: Blacks and Jews in America."
Nov. 15: Susan Estrich, campaign chairman of the Dukakis/Bentsen campaign; Jack Germond, Evening Sun columnist; Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democratic candidate for Congress; Ed Rollins, chairman, National Republican Congressional Committee; on "The Politics of Race."
* Nov. 29: Bill Chong, president of Asian Americans for Equality, "Asian Americans: Silent, or the Model Minority?"
* Dec. 13: Maya Angelou, poet and author, "An Evening with Maya Angelou."