Tuesday, June 23, 2009

March Held For Martyrs And Justice In Philadelphia

PHOTO BY BRIAN LIVINGSTON / THE MERIDIAN STAR FOOTSTEPS OF KING The 45th Annual Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service and Conference March for Justice in Philadelphia was held Saturday morning.

June 21, 2009
— By Brian Livingston

Robert Summerville was born in a small community near Natchez but it was his years as a student at Jim Hill High School in Jackson in the late '50s that he remembers seeing civil rights activist Medgar Evers working in his office as Summerville walked to school.

On a very bright, hot Saturday morning in Philadelphia, Summerville was one of a growing number of people who were waiting to take part in the 45th Annual Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service and Conference that culminated in a March for Justice. The march began at Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church and led to the Neshoba County Court House.

"The March for Justice commemorates the route that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led in Philadelphia in 1966 on the second anniversary of the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner," said John Steele, the chairman of the event. "A rally at the Neshoba County courthouse will be held as it did then where, as Dr. King spoke, some of those involved in the murders stood behind him and harassed him."

Summerville, who now lives in New Jersey, traveled to Philadelphia to document and relive a little piece of history. He said it was very important for young people to embrace such an event so as not to forget those who died during this struggle.

"A lot of young people don't have a clue as to what happened back then," said Summerville, who added he joined the U.S. Army and traveled extensively abroad while in the service. "Nothing is guaranteed. You can lose something just as quickly as you earned it."

Marchers, both white and black, bravely strode through the ever increasing heat and humidity carrying crosses bearing the names of those martyrs who have yet to see justice in their causes. As they slowly walked up to the court house the marchers chanted, "More justice, more peace."

During the rally Steele said there can't be complete peace until all who died during that trying time has justice.

"Justice for one is not justice for all," Steele extolled to those listening.
Unlike the vast majority of marchers on this day, there was one person in attendance who was alongside King in 1966. William Combs remembers well the tension and fear that gripped he and his family and friends during that period of Neshoba County history. He said there have been encouraging changes he has witnessed in his 74 years of living near Philadelphia. He holds out hope more change will come that will continue to chase away the days of racism.

"Neshoba County was a terrible place to live," Combs told the crowd. "It is much better today. But it can get better. I've seen signs we are more able to work together for peace. That's a good thing."

The memorial service weekend will be for remembering and honoring those whose lives were taken in the struggle, calling on officials to vigorously prosecute all known perpetrators who murdered or conspired to murder civil rights workers and others in efforts to suppress and deny civil rights for all. It will also be a time for exchanging thoughts and ideas, strategizing, and developing plans to continue the struggle against racial, economic, legal, and social oppression in Mississippi and other states.

Summerville, in taking his time to express his desire that young people not squander the opportunities given to them by so many said, "Only a damn fool would give up something someone else died for."

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