Where Are We Now?

One of my colleagues and I were talking about The Butler and the issue of Black on Black crime. My colleague said she walked out of the movie because she could not tolerate being face to face with the pain of the Civil Rights Movement. The turning point for her was when the Black girl was spit on during the Woolworth sit in.

Although Black people (and all people) should demand equal treatment from society, we are often cruel and unjust to each other. Black on Black violence dominates many neighborhoods, the value of education in many communities has depreciated, and our youth idolize those who portray us as being hoes, bitches, dope dealers, and gangsters while those who are trying to succeed in legal and socially acceptable means are considered lame.

The struggles during the Civil Rights Movement were not done in vain, but many of our youth have failed to pick up the torch of empowerment. How do we get our society back on track when we so many seem to have fallen astray is a question I often ponder. During the Civil Rights struggles, protests were not impromptu occurrences. In many instances, they were planned for weeks or even months before any action was taken. Leaders of organizations such as the NAACP, CORE, and SLCL attempted negotiations with business owners and government officials before picketing. Their negotiations were usually accompanied by a list of demands. If the white business owners agreed to meet the demands of the Black community, the boycott would be called off. If business owners failed to agree to all the demands, the black community was prepared to go forth with their plans to protest. Often, they met daily on matters such as who would go to jail (if necessary) and acquired bail money before their feet hit the pavement.

In September of 1962, the National Jackson Youth Council along with the Tougaloo College Chapter of the NAACP began planning a boycott of the businesses on Capital Street in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. Their plan was to start the boycott during the Christmas shopping season in an attempt to hit store owners where it would be felt the most- in their pocketbooks. They were prepared to boycott the stores for as long as possible until the following demands were met:

(1)  personnel were hired and promoted based on their personnel merit without regard to race, color, or creed

(2)  to end segregated drinking foundations, segregated restrooms, and segregated seating

(3)  service to customers be done on a first-come, first-served basis

(4)  the use of courtesy titles such as “Miss,” “Mrs.” “and “Mr” with regard to ALL people

Their boycotts were successful in organizing the Black community and supporters of integration. For months, the business owners and local government refused to budge.

Woolworth Sitin  Jackson, MS May 28, 1963

Woolworth Sit-in (Jackson, MS)
May 28, 1963

Regardless of how violent their oppressors were, the protestors maintained their peaceful position and strategized to legally initiate change.

If we were to strategize a method to bring social change and ethical awareness back to communities in need, what would be our demands? Which factions within our community would we deem to be most important to change first?

    • Would we direct our demonstrations towards BET, MTV, and VH1 whose daily line-up of shows and videos display our young people in degrading ways?
    • Would we revamp the education system an in effort to help our students and parents understand the true benefits of a degree?
      • Would we demand Black history courses become integrated into the curriculum as early as elementary so that our children will have a true sense of self?
    • Would we fight for the funds to provide more job training for the Black community?
    • Would we promote mental health services for our communities to help citizens deal with the overwhelming issues of dysfunctional relationships, rape, child abandonment, fatherless families, drug abuse, and victims of crimes?

Would it make a difference?

Click here to view a copy of the letter that was sent to white business owners as they continued their efforts for equality.
Source (for the letter and photo): Hunter Bear (John Salter, Jr., former professor of Tougaloo College and Former Advisor to the Tougaloo College NAACP Chapter). www.hunterbear.org
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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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Beth Israel: A Jewish Synagogue on My Mind

Beth Israel

(Beth Israel Synagogue)

Beth Israel, Jackson’s first Jewish synagogue was vandalized last night. My heart dropped as I watched the news report. I have reached a point of frustration when it comes to the hate-related and ignorant actions of others. What makes the situation worse is that the synagogue has a campaign for kindness going on. The campaign is designed to acknowledge various acts of kindness and seeks to inspire kindness in others.

As an undergrad at Tougaloo College, my philosophy professor took us to this synagogue. During a unit on comparative religions, he offered students extra points if we attended and wrote an essay about our experience. I have to admit, I was nervous as I entered the synagogue. I didn’t know what to expect. I was definitely more concerned about the attention I might draw to myself by being unaware of the protocols and recitations than being a young black girl who obviously was not Jewish.

I am grateful for that experience. It has allowed me to find many parallels between those services and the services at my childhood Baptist church. Walls of hate are often built with mortar that seems to be stronger than love. But, the more we are exposed to different cultures and people, the more we can weaken these walls. There is nothing wrong with experiencing something different. You don’t have to love it…you don’t have to agree with you. You simply have to make the conscious decision to open your mind and be willing to try.

Click to learn more about Beth Israel.

Click here to read about it in the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities.

Photo Source: www.facebook.com/bethisraelms/

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Voting Day: No Picket Lines, No Scare Tactics

Vote

(image from the Freedom Summer of 1964)

Today is voting day for the primary elections. Because I am reading Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by John Dittmer, I have a totally new outlook on the voting process. Since I’ve started reading the book, I keep thinking about the unbelievable sacrifices it vividly describes.

During the 1940s-1960s, a number of tactics were used to keep Blacks away from the polls. Although the literacy rates among Blacks were low during these times, they were forced to interpret part of the Constitution during the registration process. Around the state, hundreds took their turn at the interpretation, but only a few individuals would pass. The criteria for passing were determined by the person giving the test on that particular day. Unfortunately, those in charge had no intention of granting Blacks the opportunity to register to vote. This was made clear by the shot guns, attack dogs, and police cars that often greeted registrants at the doors of the county courthouse.

I also thought about Freedom Days in towns like Canton and Hattiesburg. These days were set aside for Blacks to collectively attempt to register. Because of the level of discrimination, these attempts often led to picketing and drew national attention.

I reminisced on the many churches, houses, and businesses that were saturated with bullets or bombed. The owners of these places were targeted because they offered work space to voter registration organizers (such as COFO, NAACP, SCLC or SNCC). When the bombings did not deter the organizers, they were targeted as they drove through the towns. The descriptions of the brutal attacks as men were dragged out of their cars, assaulted, hung, or shot would bring tears to your eyes.

I remembered the story of fifteen year old June Johnson who was beaten because she took part in a desegregation attempt during the ride back from the SCLC citizenship school (designed to help organizers with voter registration efforts). Her account is detailed in the book.

 “…Then the four of them- the Sheriff, the Chief of Police, the State Trooper, and the white man that had brought Mrs. (Fannie Lou) Hamer in- threw me on the floor and beat me. After they finished stomping me, they said, “Get up, nigger.” I raised my head and the white man hit me in the back of the head with a club wrapped in black leather. Then they made me get up. My dress was torn off and my slip was coming off. Blood was streaming down the back of my head and my dress was all bloody.”

Lawmen hoped it would dissuade her and others like her from participating in future movements. They were wrong.

I could not forget the Freedom Summer of 1964. White college students from the north came to Mississippi by the hundreds to help social and civil justice emerge. The youngsters viewed videos that were used to orientate them to Mississippi life. The clothing and political views seen in the video were so far removed from the everyday experiences of white suburbia, that in their naiveness, the students laughed. Their actions offended CORE organizers. Although the Mississippi dialect and fashion seemed comical to them, our struggles were less than humorous.

I’m only half way through the book, with about 300 more pages to go. Yet, the stories of these Mississippians has changed me. The only question I have is: “Why weren’t these historically accounts ever mentioned in my history classes, even in Mississippi history which each student was required to take?” Although most Mississippians would rather not boast about the state’s past, sharing these historical accounts with the next generation ensures that such liberties as free education and the right to vote aren’t taken for granted.

To learn more about the struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi consider:

Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by John Dittmer

Documents, editorials, and hear recorded accounts of the Civil Rights Movement.

To view a sample of what Black Mississippians had to complete to register to vote, click Mississippi voter registration form 1955. Definitely check out page 2.

The Civil Rights Digital Library’s Freedom Summer documents.

Photographs of the Freedom Summer of 1964.

Image source: The Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website 

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Marvel At Her Power

As a human being, I have to marvel at the strength and the respect that Mother Nature demands. Monday afternoon, a strong thunderstorm moved through Jackson, Mississippi and the surrounding area. The storm brought along with it a few icy friends who were determined to descend from the heavens. Out of nowhere, our beautiful spring skies turned spooky gray and deposited hailstones that saturated the metropolitan area.

In less than thirty minutes, the Jackson area was flooded with hail that ranged in size from marbles to baseballs. The storm caused millions of dollars in damages and left thousands of cars with broken windshields. The exterior of the cars looked as if they had been pounded to death by a ton of bricks.

I find it extremely interesting that man can predict thunderstorms, but no one is able to foresee, to a great degree, the large balls of ice that fall from the sky. Being the helpless individuals that we were on Monday, one could not do anything but respect it. It astounds me that as the smartest species on the planet, we can video conference across the world, explore space, clone organisms, cure diseases, manipulate chromosomes, and everything else, but we cannot control mother nature.

In my opinion, that is something that you just have to stand back and marvel at. For a science educator and a weather geek like me, it is some that I have to love.

 For more photos from the hail storm, check out the link below for a the slideshow created by MSNEWSNOW, one of our local TV stations.

MS News Now Hail Storm Slideshow

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Why I Love My Alma Mater

Why I chose to take the road less traveled…

Many of my friends who decided to stay in Mississippi for college attended Jackson State University (JSU). Although I was granted a full scholarship there, I chose not to attend. Many thought I was crazy to turn down the scholarship, but I had chosen to attend school elsewhere. I had my eyes set on a place that was not a large, fancy university with thousands of students hurrying off to class. To this day, it still does not have a football team or a band.

Why would I choose such an institution? As a high school senior, I knew I would experience more personal growth on a campus where every student was focused strictly on academics, bettering themselves, and their community. In my opinion, Jackson State provided excellent educational opportunities, but also offered too many other activities. In such an environment, students could easily stray away from their true purpose of going to college. It was for these reasons that I chose not to attend JSU, but instead Tougaloo College. Tougaloo was and still is one of the most prestigious private liberal arts colleges in the South. It is the premier place for serious academic students and its graduates continue to make great strides in the workforce and their communities.

Tougaloo College is situated on the Boddie Plantation, a former slave plantation. Although the college is small, it is filled with the spirits of our ancestors who once worked the land and longed for the equal rights to read and become educated. With less than 600 students, I was swept into the school’s mission to bring about change in the world. Tougaloo exemplified this mission by initiating change within its own community. During the civil rights movement, the school served as a safe haven for activists such Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar  Evans, Fannie Lou Hamer and countless of others. These fearless individuals used the campus to plan sit-ins, marches, and voter registration drives.

During my time there, Tougaloo provided buses so students could attend the Million Youth March in Atlanta. Students also traveled to the Gulf Coast to protest the continued use of the confederate symbol on the Mississippi state flag.

Tougaloo, although a small, private institution, is well known for producing successful lawyers, doctors, and educators. Yes, the tuition at my alma mater was thousands more than that of JSU, but the seed of activism that was planted in me is invaluable, so I’d have to say without wavering Tougaloo College was well worth every penny.

To read more about Tougaloo College and its role in the Civil Rights Movement, check out these resources:

www.tougaloo.edu

www.siueblackstudies.com/2010/05/tougaloo-college-mlk-and-civil-rights.html

http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/mi1.htm

 

* Photographs of the Tougaloo mansion in the 1900s were from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Photos of artwork are from http://www.tougaloo.edu/artcolony/gallery.htm  All other photographs and video components were taken by Jacqueline Samuel.

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Growing Up in Mississippi

This is the house where I grew up, located in Presidential Hills, a predominantly black neighborhood in Jackson, MS. All of the streets are named after U.S. Presidents. My parents were one of the many new homeowners who had their house built in 1974.

I have many fond memories growing up in this neighborhood. The backyard, in my mind was an island get-a-way; it was home to a tree house my dad built for my sister and me. It was indeed a cozy little palace with a colored TV and plenty of space to play. We used extension cords for power and hosted club house meetings. Though it was exclusive, our membership requirements were very inviting. The only requirement to join our treehouse club was you had to bring a snack. To ensure our club house members were safe, we even had fire drills with participants lining up one-by-one to jump off the main floor, 10 feet down to the ground.

Preparing my worksheetsIn the front yard was a walkway that ended in 3 large steps. Those steps provided an excellent place to sit for hours and play with friends while waving at people passing by in cars. The house had a two-car garage that dubbed as both my classroom and a skating rink. When playing school, I had my very own Strawberry Shortcake chalkboard. Making my own worksheets with activity books I received for Christmas, one could say I was destined to become an educator. Looking back, I maintained a strict grade book as well. When school was over, we pushed our learning tools aside and played music from a small radio that my dad often used when he washed the car. That radio was the DJ for the skating rink. For hours, my friends and I would create dance moves and routines in preparation for our next make-believe professional skate performance.

My summers were filled with barefoot races in the creek that ran behind the houses. We loved the feeling of the cool mud gushing between our toes. The wet mud was a cooling comfort in the sweltering Mississippi summer heat. As evening approached, you would often find me playing kickball in an old pair of red high heels that belonged to my mom. In retrospect, it was an unsuccessful attempt to build an arch for my very flat feet.

My parents were very supportive. They often encouraged me to explore whatever interested me. They also did not force me to remain true to the typical gender roles. Yes, I wore a dress to church every Sunday. My dad even bought shampoo for me so I could wash and comb my dolls’ hair. I was a girly girl, but I also played football and basketball with the boys or sat side-by-side with my dad as he worked on the car and fixed things around the house.

We took summer vacations most years, my parents often had parties that lasted until the morning, and I NEVER recalled being called a nigger. We had everything we needed and much of what we wanted. This was the only life I knew, and it was an awesome life for a kid growing up in the South, especially in Mississippi.

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