The Launch of the Mississippi Freedom Trail - May 2011
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour recently announced the launch of the Mississippi Freedom Trail, a series of markers across the state to remember those who engaged in the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s.
"The Mississippi Freedom Trail will be an outstanding educational attraction that will honour those who contributed to the Civil Rights movement here" the Governor said at the launch, which will soon see 30 markers across Mississippi. The Mississippi Freedom Trail follows on from Governor Barbour's successful launch of the state's Mississippi Blues Trail in 2006, which now has over 100 markers situated, commemorating the contributioons of African-American blues musicians.
It was exactly 50 years ago this month that one of the most successful campaigns began in the struggle for Civil Rights in America. In May 1961, "Freedom Riders" from the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) tested the US government's law on desegregation on interstate bus travel.
The activists set out on Greyhound buses to travel from Washington DC to New Orleans. They were harrassed and attacked by extreme right wing movements like the Ku Klux Klan, but began a seismic shift in America's appreciation of the inequality faced by its black inhabitants.
Among the markers to be unveiled during May is one at the Greyhound Bus Station in Jackson, Mississippi, where the Freedom Riders were arrested as they walked towards the "whites only" waiting-room. The group included nine black men, a white man and two black girls. They were charged with "breach of the peace, disobeying an officer and attempting to incite a riot".
The first marker was unveiled this week on 18th May, and is located at Byant's Grocery Store, in Money, Mississippi, where, is 1955, a Chicago teenager called Emmet Till whistled at a white woman. For this "crime", Emmet Till was brutally murdered and his body thrown into the Tallahatchie River ("Emmett's body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea"....Bob Dylan sang on "The Death of Emmet Till"). The brutality of the murder sent shockwaves across the South, paving the way for the Civil Rights movement, which within a few months would hurl Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to national prominence.
Further markers during May will be at the home of Civil Rights activist Medger Evers who was assassinated outside his Jackson home in 1963 and Fannie Lou Hamer of Ruleville, Mississippi, who organised voter registration during the early 1960s.
For the past 12 months, representatives of the state of Mississippi, civil rights activists and historians have been selecting marker locations from over 300 submissions. Future sites will include the notorious Parchman Farm penitentiary; the home of James Meredith, the first African-American to enrol at the all-white Univeristy of Mississippi and the Capitol building in the state capital of Jackson, Mississippi.
For more information on the Mississippi Freedom Trail, go to the state's website www.visitmississippi.org.