Friday, June 29, 2007

43rd Annual Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service and Conference and Caravan for Justice a Success...

43rd Annual Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service And Conference And Caravan For Justice Summary Report


Dear Friends,

It was a great weekend.

I apologize in advance for omissions in this report. There was so much good participation, I am afraid that I am bound to leave something out.

People from out of state began arriving in Meridian on Thursday to join with people from Mississippi to complete the work for the 43rd memorial service.

An operational headquarters was opened at 31st Baptist Church at 8:30 Friday morning, June 22. Dr. Thompson is the pastor of 31st and he could not have been more gracious and helpful. The headquarters operated until around 10 pm Friday night. Coordination of volunteers for various activities, information sharing, sign making, and accomplishing the many final details for the Caravan for Justice and the Memorial Service and Conference were handled at the church.

A press conference was held in front of the former COFO office in Meridian at 11 Friday morning. It was covered by the local tv station and newspaper. Ed Whitfield opened with a sweeping eloquent statement of why we were there: to honor the Mississippi civil rights martyrs and demand as full a measure of justice as is obtainable for each and every one. Compelling remarks were also provided by Richard Coleman, Meridian/Lauderdale Co. NAACP Branch President; John Steele, Chairman of 43rd Annual Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service and Conference Planning Committee, Curtis Muhammad, Mississippi Civil Rights Movement veteran, and several others. One speaker issued a challenge to the media to challenge Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and Mississippi 8th District Attorney Mark Duncan on the grossly inadequate prosecution done by them thus far in the Neshoba murders case.

On Saturday morning, June 23, folks started arriving shortly after 8 at the First Union Missionary Baptist Church in Meridian for the Caravan for Justice that would depart at
10 am. First Union is where James Chaney's funeral service was held in 1964, and where his mother's service was held on June 9. Other vehicles arrived, including two full sized buses, and numerous cars, trucks, and SUVs. Many people enthusiastically placed signs on their vehicles. Additional signs had to be made on the spot. Some of the signs stated: JUSTICE FOR CHANEY GOODMAN SCHWERNER, WHY ONLY KILLEN?, KILLEN'S LONELY, JUSTICE FOR ALL MISSISSIPPI CIVIL RIGHTS MARTYRS, JUSTICE FOR EMMETT TILL, JUSTICE RIDERS, KILLEN NEEDS SOME COMPANY, and

The Caravan for Justice rolled out at 10 and made stops at the COFO office site, the James Chaney and Fannie Lee Chaney graves site at Okatibbee Baptist Church Cemetery outside of Meridian, the murder site on Rock Cut Road off of Highway 19 between Meridian and Philadelphia. At each stop, talks were given, and sometimes singing, music, and prayers offered. The services at the graves site and the murders site were of a particularly spiritual and moving nature.

There was harassment and worse by white racists during the caravan. A pickup truck driven by a young white man ran several vehicles off Highway 19. He made obscene gestures as he dangerously passed many of the vehicles in the caravan. He drove his truck into the rear of a caravan vehicle. This was done when the caravan was at low speed or stopped, and the assailant was also at low speed. He intentionally bumped the caravan vehicle a second time. When the occupants of the caravan vehicle emerged to check for damage, the assailant waved a club or bat from within his truck. The assailant then backed up, then accelerated forward, swerving toward the two men from the caravan vehicle, causing them to jump out of the way to avoid serious injury or worse.

The caravan arrived on time shortly before 1 pm in downtown Philadelphia for the big Rally for Justice at the Neshoba County courthouse. The caravan now consisted of four buses, two large recreation vehicles, and around forty other vehicles. Vehicles were parked around the courthouse square or nearby.

More harassment occurred in downtown Philadelphia. One Justice Rider was carrying a sign that read "JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED." As the Justice Rider crossed the street to reach the courthouse square, a middle aged white man in a late model red truck at the stoplight sarcastically shouted "What justice delayed are you talking about?" The Justice Rider shouted back, "All the murderers in this town." The red light changed and the truck proceeded away. While the Justice Riders were at the rally the sign dealing with Olen Burrage was ripped off the car it was on, torn to pieces, and the pieces left on the hood of the car.

The Rally for Justice at the Neshoba County courthouse began at 1 pm with well over 200 people. There were many powerful remarks given by several speakers. George Smith of Ft. Wayne, formerly of Meridian and a movement veteran who worked in Philadelphia in the 1960s, gave an especially to the point demand for justice in the Neshoba murders case.

After the rally at the courthouse, the caravan proceeded to the Longdale community center site. After a welcoming ceremony and the invocation by Rev. Barton of Kemper Co.'s Unity Springs Church (George Roberts' church) , a good meal was enjoyed by all. Curtis Muhammad served as Master of Ceremonies for the Saturday segment of the memorial service/conference. Curtis did his usual great job. Of course, there was freedom singing then and throughout the service and conference.

Steven McNichols a retired attorney and human rights activist from California read his personal account of the Freedom Ride that ended in the Harris Co. (Houston, TX) jail. The story gripped the audience in the reality of the brutality that movement people faced.

A panel dealing with the topic of Civil Rights Murders of Mississippi followed Steve. Ed Whitfield moderated the panel that included Keith Beauchamp, the producer of The Untold Story of Emmett Till; Ben Chaney, brother of Mississippi civil rights martyr James Chaney, civil rights crimes researcher Benjamin Greenberg of Boston, and John Gibson of the Arkansas Delta Truth and Justice Center. An engaged question and answer session followed the individual presentations by the panel members.

The Saturday session adjourned around 6, but the day was far from over. From about 8 to midnight a pizza party was held in and outside of one participant's room back at the Motel 6 in Meridian. There was making of new friends and reconnecting with old friends. And much swapping of stories. It wasn't long before Mississippi veteran Margaret Block and the group of History graduate students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison had a freedom singing songfest outside the door. The students had a good guitar player.

The program started back up at Longdale at 10 Sunday morning, June 24. Margaret Block was the Master of Ceremonies for Sunday. Rev. Advial McKenzie of Quitman did the invocation and Longdale native Jacqueline Spencer welcomed the gathering. A Roll Call of Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs was read by movement veteran Diane Nash of Chicago; Jimmie Travis, movement veteran and Chairman of the Board of the Mississippi Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement; and Doris McKenzie, human rights activist from Quitman. The roll call consisted of reading summaries of the stories of each of the Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs. The gathering was very moved.

Jacqueline Spencer followed the roll call with her personal comments from a child of Neshoba County civil rights pioneers that she is.

Then there was a scheduled and announced segment to recognize the food committee for their wonderful contributions to the success of the weekend. But there was a surprise part too. Four individuals were called forward to receive the first Longdale Freedom Fighter Awards: Rev. Advial McKenzie; George Roberts; Carolyn Sutton, the chair of the Food Committee; and Jacqueline Spencer.

Another great meal was served on Sunday. After the meal, the Pursuit of Justice panel, moderated by Steve McNichols, began. Panels members were movement veteran Judge D'Army Bailey of Memphis, movement veteran Judge Olly Neal of Arkansas, Minnesota State Senator Richard Cohen, Mississippi veteran and Chairman of the Mississippi veterans group Jimmie Travis, and John Gibson. The panel made clear that there has been grossly inadequate justice rendered in Mississippi civil rights murders cases in general, and in the Neshoba murders case in particular. After a Q & A session, the gathering divided into discussion groups to continue addressing the pursuit of justice issue. Representatives of each discussion group then reported back to the reconvened entire gathering. Many good ideas were presented to pursue more adequate justice in the Mississippi civil rights murder cases.

Hank Thomas, movement veteran of Atlanta, gave a talk on the need for and some paths for economic development within African-American communities and other communities.
A lively Q & A followed his presentation.

John Steele presented a report on the progress and plans for the reopening of the Longdale Community Center. He stated that a nonprofit corporation has been officially formed, and work to obtain federal tax exempt status is in progress. After his report, there were several comments from residents of the Longdale community about the strong need for the community center to be reopened.

Over 400 people participated in the Caravan for Justice and the 43rd Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service and Conference.

It was great.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Stay on the case. Very informative.