As I look back at my life, I have some strong regrets. I wish I could have done more to advance the cause of the Mississippians, white and black, who are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful lands on Earth… I live in a devastated land. My homeland of Mississippi today is the dead-last poorest state in the nation, the state with the highest portion of people living in poverty, arguably the worst educational system of any American state… I wish I could have provided stronger leadership on the issues I care about the most, and I wish I could have communicated my messages of triumphant American citizenship, black advancement, and black self-transformation more forcefully and clearly. So far, I have failed completely in doing so.
My greatest regret in life so far is that I have not done nearly enough to help America’s poor, and especially its poorest black citizens. The American civil rights movement, which I alternately criticized and cooperated with but was never a part of, achieved most of its limited goals… But it failed utterly in uplifting America’s poor. Despite the entry of blacks into positions of political power and the rise of a large black middle class, millions of black Americans are still imprisoned in chains of abject poverty and ignorance….
At the root of many of our problems as a nation is the fact that our public education system is an unmitigated disaster for many of our poor white, Latino, Naive American, and black youths. By the time they reach twelfth grade, black students are four years behind their white peers in English, math, and science, and score two hundred points lower average SAT scores than white students… Millions of young black Americans cannot be competitive in the new global information economy because of their inability to read, write, and spell proper English…
These trends are a national disgrace. They cannot be allowed to continue. The fates of nations used to be determined by their borders and how they could defend them. No more. The fate of nations today and into the future will be decided by the degree to which the nation practices what it preaches. If America is to hold her rightful place as a leader in the world, we must come nearer to our ideal of human equality and justice — for all our citizens.
James Meredith, who struck a blow for ending Jim Crow segregation 50 years ago by becoming the first black man to attend the University of Mississippi without passing for white, articulating what we should all stand for in his book, A Mission from God.