Last spring, I learned that I'm a distant cousin of Mississippi civil rights and education pioneer James Meredith....
On Monday, I returned from attending the dedication of a statue and monument honoring him on the campus of Ole Miss, which finally admitted him as its first black student in 1962 after a firestorm of white opposition.
The ceremony was tremendously moving and inspiring, with amazing keynote speakers like actor Morgan Freeman and Georgia Congressman John Lewis. Each speaker lauded Meredith for the significant changes that his actions brought about in propelling the University of Mississippi toward integration and greater education opportunities for all.
But the back story is perhaps more fascinating. Before Sunday's dedication events, Meredith explained to me and my husband John that he plans to retire the brand character he called "James Meredith," and return to the original brand -- his real name, J.H. Meredith.
"For the last 25 years I have been trying to find the right time and occasion to bury 'James Meredith' since his mission has been completed," he said.
He recounted the day when, as a teenager, he tried to get a driver's license. The young white clerk, he explained, refused to give him a driver's license with the initials that were shown on his birth certificate: J.H. So, right there, he made up the name "James Howard Meredith," and for nearly the next five decades, he intentionally used the "James Meredith" brand character to achieve his aims in every way he could. Since 1962, the brand icon "James Meredith" has represented the work of a courageous black man to seek equal first-class citizenship and educational rights on par with white citizens.
I don't think it will be easy for Meredith to retire the brand icon "James Meredith." It has powerful and deeply historical meaning for generations of blacks and whites alike. But Meredith's desire to evolve his iconic brand character is a deeply personal one, and arguably, a more important one.
We professional service marketers often think about evolving a brand or a brand character, seeking compelling reasons to move our organizations to embrace the changes we believe are appropriate. How many of us have as compelling a reason as J. H. Meredith?
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