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Black History Tribute I

Professor recalls marching with MLK, other events shaping his life

By Jasmine Franklin
On February 20, 2020

When Jim Meade was a young boy he recalls seeing the “terrible” treatment of African-American children during segregation. 

Meade, a professor of painting and drawing at the University of Southern Mississippi, points to that experience as a turning point in his life that impacted his career forever. 

As a young child, Meade spent some of his free time deer hunting with his father. On one early morning hunting outing with his father, Meade recalls an incident that led to his decision to teach in Mississippi. 

“When I was a little boy me and my daddy would go deer hunting,” Meade said. “We never had owned a car so we were waiting at this place for a guy to go with us to pick us up and it was about four in the morning. The ground was frozen, I can remember the ice cracking as we walked over the mud puddles. I remember seeing these little black kids catching a bus to go to school. They couldn’t go to the school I went to, they went to a school on the other side of the county. I watched them cross through the mountains in below freezing weather.” 

His experience witnessing the hardships African-Americans endured was very influential to him and stuck with him since he was child. 

“It had a big effect on me. I tried to do what I thought was right in the civil rights movement,” Meade said. “I’ve marched with Martin Luther King Jr. before in Georgia. I just think it’s terrible that at one point it was illegal to teach a negro child in the state of Mississippi.” 

Meade is in his sixth decade working at the USM and does not desire to leave anytime soon. 

“It would scare me to death to leave, even when I have a vacation I miss these students,” Meade said. 

Throughout Meade’s career practicing art he has hosted over 130 shows and has had work in 17 international exhibits. 

“If you would have told me 55 years ago that I would be here now and have work across the world. I probably wouldn’t believe you,” Meade said. 

Meade initially had aspirations to be a football coach and while he didn’t desire to be a teacher he had been subconsciously helping others since he was a boy scout. 

“I always taught, even when I was a little boy I was in the scouts and I had learned to tie knots,” Meade said. “It seemed like it was easy to me. I began teaching the other kids to tie knots.” 

Both of Meade’s grandfathers were coal miners back in the 1890s. They would work hours for one dime. 

After working for 30 years, Meade’s grandfather didn’t even have a penny saved. 

Meade, who lost both of his parents when he was 16, was raised in a low income household and never had any art lessons or classes until college. 

“I took my first art lesson when I was a junior in college. I always made stuff and when I got to East Tennessee University and had the chance to study art I fell in love,” Meade said. 

Meade believes students have to be passionate about art. 

He teaches students skill and techniques however he believes, the desire to create must come from within. 

“I do not try to recruit in this field, it is a delayed reward. The hardest thing about doing it is getting started. I can tell a kid where to look but I can’t tell him what to see. I like to provoke and stimulate the students,” Meade said. 

Mary Roberts, a senior at USM, said Meade has been her favorite teacher at the university because he taught her to see art from a different perspective. 

“I’m so happy I was in his class because he is very knowledgeable,” Roberts said.  “He uses this teaching style that he calls provocative teaching. At first it’s intimidating then it actually starts making a lot of sense. It forced me to create solutions on my own.” 

Meade said he believes everyone deserves an education despite race, ethnicity or gender. 

“From working in the civil rights I learned everyone deserves an equal education,” Meade said. “I’ve witnessed a lot. Overall, I learned to be honest and to be myself because you only get one life to live.”

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