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The Final Word

January/February 2017 Issue

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Freedom Riders protested here in 1961.

The Civil Rights Movement in America has its roots in Mississippi in the 1950s and ’60s, when nonviolent protests were held to end the injustices black citizens endured there. The Mississippi Freedom Trail runs throughout the state and identifies pivotal persons and events of that era. Freedom Trail markers recognize these and other civil rights pioneers.

The story of Emmett Till is remembered with markers in the towns of Money and Sumner. In August 1955, 14-year-old Till of Chicago, Ill., was visiting relatives in Mississippi. He was kidnapped, beaten, shot, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River for reportedly whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white shopkeeper. Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam were arrested a few days later and went on trial in September 1955. An all-white jury acquitted them. In 1956, the murderers confessed to the crime in an interview with Look magazine.

Till’s murder is credited with igniting the next phase of the Civil Rights Movement.

Rosa Parks, herself a key Civil Rights figure, said, “I thought of Emmett Till, and when the bus driver ordered me to the back, I couldn’t move.”

A marker in Money is at the site of Bryant’s Grocery. The Emmett Till Interpretive Center, across from the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, offers courthouse tours and interprets the Till story.

Freedom Riders arrived at the Greyhound bus station in Jackson in 1961 to challenge segregation of public transportation facilities. Refusing bail, 329 people altogether were arrested that summer, with some sent to the state penitentiary in Parchman. This peaceful protest ended segregation of bus and train stations, as well as airports.

The bus station now is an office building, and you’ll find a marker there at 219 N. Lamar.

Students at colleges made major strides in 1962. Opportunities for black students were opened when James Meredith became the first African-American to enroll at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. A marker is on campus near the library.

On May 28, 1963, three black students from Tougaloo College sat down at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Jackson. They were harassed for three hours while police watched from outside. Markers on campus and at the site of the Woolworth’s store speak to these historic events.

Medgar Evers, field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi, is another person who worked tirelessly to end racial segregation. After he was assassinated in his driveway on June 12, 1963, his widow, Myrlie, said, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.”

A marker is at the home, now a museum that Tougaloo College oversees. Another is placed in Decatur, where Evers was born.

“The Mississippi Freedom Trail connects travelers with communities that played such an integral role in the Mississippi freedom story,” says Craig Ray, director of Visit Mississippi, the tourism office of the Mississippi Development Authority. “While the population of the communities may differ, one thing is constant: the bravery, resilience, and leadership of everyday people.”

Diana West is a contributor from Joplin, Mo.

BEFORE YOU GO

Visit AAA.com/Traveler to read about more history along the Mississippi Freedom Trail.

For more information, visitmississippi.org/blog/
Mississippi-freedom-trail
.

For a Mississippi Freedom Trail map, call (866) 733-6477 (866-SEE-MISS).

 


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