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If You Don't Vote, You Don't Count

Before leaving Jackson, I walk down Capitol Street past the site of the 1963 Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins by Tougaloo College students and professors. The Mayor of Jackson had refused to desegregate downtown businesses despite being court-ordered and a mob attacked the protesters while police looked on. More than 50 students were arrested and segregation protests and voter registration drives accelerated. People I've talked to are proud of the achievements of the Mississippi Movement. Black and white, they speak with refreshing candor about history, racism, and ongoing struggles. I drove to my last destination, Hattiesburg, through the Pine Belt. Near the campus of the University of Sou

King of the Blues

I thought I'd spend an hour at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola but two and half hours later, I told the cashier in the gift shop, "You didn't say you were going to take me hostage!" Of course, B.B., who is buried outside the museum, lived to age 90 and had a full, varied life beginning with working the Delta fields and eventually traveling the world as King of the Blues. This fabulous museum is expanding and by fall will include inside B.B.'s tour bus and Rolls Royce, and an outdoor meditation garden with lyrics and quotes. There's a community room where a video was playing for Black History Month and the Gentry High School had hung a terrific art show. The painting in the photo is entitle

Delta Blessings & Curses

Fannie Lou Hamer is one of my heroes. I went with pleasure to her memorial park and gravesite in Ruleville, Sunflower County. Around the corner from where she lived, the park includes this beautiful statue with engraved pictures and quotes, her gravesite and that of her husband, and tribute markers. I did soaring crane qi gong in the pavilion to leave and receive blessings. Over forty years gone, she has much to teach us about courage and commitment. I enjoyed a brief visit with the Ruleville librarian to drop off books, lucky to see her because she splits her days between the Drew and Ruleville libraries. I didn't want to continue my Delta itinerary; I didn't want to go to Money, but the hi

COFO Headquarters

To sit in the headquarters where Robert Moses and company coordinated the Summer in Mississippi project known as Freedom Summer 1964 is inspiring. Robby Luckett, civil rights historian and professor at Jackson State University (JSU) runs the COFO Education Center, a museum to past activism and a meeting area for current social action. The brainchild of Moses to reduce intra-organizational strife, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) was established in 1961 as an umbrella organization to unify and meet the needs of an increasing presence of civil rights organizations in Mississippi, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), So

"Lift Every Voice and Sing"

I was warmly welcomed at Mount Helm Baptist Church in Jackson. The congregation was wearing red for "Heart Sunday" and the sermon was about the dual challenge of barring our hearts against evil and opening our hearts to love. I enjoyed the beautiful, nuanced music and the opportunity to sing my favorite anthem. My seat mate, an 85-year-old former English professor, ably assisted me with the unfamiliar prayer books. Mount Helm is the oldest black Baptist church in Jackson founded in 1835 in the basement of the white First Baptist Church and later built on donated land after the Civil War. As a guest, I was asked to introduce myself and several members kindly gave me information for my project

We Shall Overcome Warring Narratives

I tried to find a Saturday morning 12-step meeting but Google maps doesn't speak "Jackson" and I ended up in abandoned lots so I went straight to the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum where I spent much of the day. Housed in a new wing of the "Two Mississippi Museums" building, it's still a warring narrative of black and white here. The other Mississippi History Museum, is about prehistoric culture, Indians, riverboats, cotton, lumber, and the Civil War, and contains one chaste case devoted to the Civil Rights Movement. The new museum is excellent but a lot of reading and while I stood and read and soaked in as much as I could, recordings of singing, snarling dogs, and mean men yelling rev

Jackson Bound

I drove west eighty-five miles to Jackson, the state capital, through rolling terrain, pine forests, and flooded fields. I'm staying downtown in the old King Edward Hotel, now the Hilton Garden Inn, where the white leaders used to wheel and deal in the fancy lobby. I'm glad it was restored; Jackson looks as if preservationists and developers have running street fights, with the the developers getting in most of the licks. The photo is the nearby Mayflower Cafe, a seafood restaurant where I ate dinner; red snapper with Comeback Sauce, a local specialty (sorry, beautiful big-lipped fish, I forgot I wasn't going to eat you anymore). I attended Friday night services at Beth Israel Congregation.

The Riddle of Meridian

Mamie and Don of the Century B&B made me a wonderful breakfast and learning about my research, Don offered to drive me to James Chaney's gravesite on the outskirts of town. Truthfully, he wanted to drive my Jeep. (I'd asked the rental company for a small subcompact hoping to slide quietly across Mississippi but God has a sense of humor and I ended up with a huge turquoise Jeep with Minnesota tags.) It was a pleasure to be driven awhile and Mamie pointed out sights from the backseat, the high schools and the synagogue bombed in 1968 by the KKK, the national headquarters of which is in Philadelphia, thirty miles north. I saw a map showing black and white populations by county and realized that

Montgomery to Selma

Heavy rain dampened my enthusiasm to walk about Montgomery but before leaving I visited the Freedom Rides Museum in the old Greyhound Bus Station. That's where the Freedom Riders were attacked by a mob while police looked on in May 1961. It's a beautiful museum saved from the wrecking ball by the Alabama Historical Commission. As it poured, I drove west forty miles to Selma and over the Edmund Pettus Bridge where the March to Montgomery began. What a feeling. At the Selma Interpretative Center, I watched videos of marchers reflecting on their experiences then went upstairs for the rest of the exhibit and lo and behold, there was Linda Lowery, the woman in the video, answering a young visitor

Montgomery, Alabama: The Legacy

Researching a new play about a women's civil rights project in Mississippi during Freedom Summer 1964, I thought I'd first visit the new Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. I'm blown away. I recommend everyone visit, especially white and whitish people. The story's bad, worse than we know, but the straight line narrative of American enslavement through the criminal justice system is told creatively, clearly, and compassionately, and it was an honor to visit the marker of a friend's grandfather, lynched in 1915, shortly after the release of the film, “Birth of a Nation.” I'll have to squeeze the Rosa Parks and Freedom Riders Museums and Selma in t

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