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  • Nicole J. Burton

"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 after the service. I wrote and rested in the afternoon. On my way to a meeting and dinner in the 1950s googie-style Fondran neighborhood, I scoped out some locations where the story I'm telling took place. Many of the buildings are gone, of course. I'd read in the news that the iconic Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel in downtown Jackson where some of the white women stayed had been torn down last year. Imagine my delight when I turned the corner and there it was in all its decrepit glory. Because there was nowhere safe for black and white women to meet in Jackson in 1964, the white women would sneak out of the back of the motel, hightail four blocks to the Farish neighborhood, and meet at the black YWCA next to Collins Funeral Home. I also found Magnolia Towers, a white high-rise apartment building, now affordable senior housing, that housed the headquarters and staff of the women's project. Good hunting tonight.

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