The Butler and the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

This past weekend, I took my mom to watch The Butler. I planned to see it but hadn’t decided if I was going to watch it at the movies or wait for the DVD. A close friend of mine, who is aware of my interest in learning more about the Black Struggle, had seen the movie and suggested that I didn’t wait to view it. I’m glad I took his advice.

I had seen very few previews of the movie and didn’t know it was so deeply interwoven with the Civil Rights Movement.

Photograph of the Freedom Rider Bus that was headed to Alabama. Photo source- Alabama Department of Archives and History

Photograph of the Freedom Rider Bus that was headed to Alabama. Photo source- Alabama Department of Archives and History

The scenes where the Klan ambushed the Freedom Riders’ bus made my blood turn hot with anger as it ran through my body. I unconsciously became stiff and my hands clenched the armrests of my chair. My knees locked up. I was paralyzed by shock and anger. However, my emotional response was based off the knowledge I gained from reading about the Civil Rights Movement and the things my parents have told me. If I was this angry, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of emotions my mom might be experiencing since she lived through the actual events. Both of my parents grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They experienced segregation, the struggles of integration, black oppression, and the Klan personally.

During the drive home, I asked my mom if she remembered the events that were shown in the movie. She said, “Like it was yesterday.” She instantly began to tell me about her experiences going with her mom to the doctor. She said the doctor’s office was at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and there was a back door for Blacks to enter. The office had a black waiting room and a white waiting room. She said she easily remembered the white water fountains that were side-by-side with the black water fountains. She told me about her recollections of the Woolworth sit-ins and the segregated buses, parks, and restaurants.

Segregated water fountains.

Segregated water fountains. Source: Progressivesouthbend.org

Because the South was segregated during her upbringing, my mother told me it was important to her that her children got the opportunity to go to the King Edward Hotel. This hotel, located in downtown Jackson, was a bustling whites only establishment. When the federal government demanded an end to segregation and required businesses to serve patrons of all colors, the owner of the hotel said he would shut the place down before he would allow a Black person in. He did just that. In 1967, the doors of the hotel were closed. For over 40 years, the King Edward Hotel became an eye sore that nagged of times filled with racial hatred and discrimination. In 2007, a group of investors began working to refurbish the hotel. Two years later, it reopened. In celebration of my thirtieth birthday, my mom took my aunt and me there.

The abandoned and remodeled King Edward Hotel.

The abandoned and remodeled King Edward Hotel.

On the drive home from the movies, my mom said while taking us to that hotel may have seemed like a small gesture, it meant a lot to her. It symbolized overcoming a great obstacle. It symbolized changed times and a new Mississippi.

Click here to read more about the Freedom Riders.

To view photographs and articles from the Civil Rights Movement, visit the Mississippi Department of Archives’ Digital Archives, and click on Sovereignity Commission Online. For example, conduct a Photograph Search by typing in Freedom Riders in the search box. You surly will find a wealth of interesting information.

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4 thoughts on “The Butler and the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

  1. Wow, having your mom with you to see this movie is priceless, I can feel her spirit as she takes her baby to the hotel that she herself could not patronize. That is rich J, a story you can share with your own family one day.

    • Just walked home from watching “The Butler”. What a wonderful movie. I cried a lot in the movie because it really hit home with me and my family. I thought about the time my dear sister Gwen (one of three black girls) who were the first to integrate Watkins Elementary School in Jackson, MS; my heart was heavy tonight as it was then for her and the two other girls who had to withstand being called a “nigger” being spat on, having erasers thrown at them by students encouraged by racist teachers and still having to succeed academically; I grieved for Medger Evers’ wife and children who stood in the driveway to witness their father bleeding after being assassinated. For the students at Jackson State University and myself who were victimized by racism as the highway patrol shot into the girl’s dorm and the court would find it justifiable; for all the elders who paved the way for me; I cry for my grandparents and parents whose shoulders I have stood on to become who I am today. That’s what my tears were about tonight. I salute them and I celebrate their memory. Thank you Lee Daniels for putting it back out there for us to reflect on and for those who don’t know – thanks for so eloquently creating a film that keeps it real.

      • Reading your comment gave me chills. Every time I interact with someone who has experienced the struggle first hand it brings so much more life to the words I’ve been reading about the Civil Rights struggle. It makes the experiences much more personal. There is such a rich history in Mississippi, so many trials we have overcome. That’s why I feel it is so important that our youth are made aware of the struggles that accompany the luxuries they have today. I feel there has been a disconnect with many of your young people, especially in Jackson.

    • Yes. I am glad I finally realized a lot of my family members have a wealth of interesting information, but I wish I had spent more time asking my grandparents and great-grandparents questions before they passed. I think that’s why I make it a point to have those types of conversations with my parents.

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