We crossed over into Mississippi today and toured Meridian with Joe Morse’s friend, Roscoe Jones, a fellow veteran of the movement.
Meridian is a historic city but many of the buildings that played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement are no longer standing because the city took them down for reasons unknown (the city council did not give reasons, Jones said).
Meridian and much like the rest of the south is full of churches. Churches were very important during the movement. Not only did they provide a place of worship but also they were meeting places to organize civil rights workers and a gathering place for people to come. The children who marched in Birmingham gathered at the 16th Street Baptist Church.
Discrimination is still a problem in the Meridian Public School District. Kids as young as eight years old are being taken into custody, without due process, from the school campus for disciplinary infraction. The infractions are not ordinary infractions like being tardy too many times. A few of the charges are wearing the wrong color socks with their uniform or having a bad or grumpy attitude in the morning. Richard Coleman, a Civil Rights veteran, is trying to get justice for the kids.
Coleman was a Vietnam War veteran and was reluctant to fight in Vietnam because his “enemies were right here in Meridian.” At this time, the army was segregated also and Coleman said he didn’t understand that because they were fighting for the same cause. This article from Huffington Post puts the issue in perspective.
Roscoe Jones was speaking at the New Grace Baptist Church, the day James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered by the KKK near Philadelphia, Miss. Originally, Jones was supposed to be with the other three, but was asked to speak instead.
We visited the vacant lots where the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and Meridian Freedom Folk School once stood. COFO organized voter’s rights activities in Mississippi. The Freedom Folk School was the largest in Mississippi and they taught students about social, political, and economic equality.
After understanding the history in Meridian, we went to Tabernacle United Methodist Church to meet with two more veterans, Sadie Clark Martin and Richard Coleman.
Martin was one of five girls to be integrated into Meridian High School. Her house was also involved in a drive-by shooting.
“I wasn’t scared,” Martin said. “I wasn’t going to let their [white students] words get to me. Dr. Martin Luther King told us to be nonviolent.”
We returned to the hotel with little time to get ready for the next event, a tribute to George Smith, a veteran who worked with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Smith’s family and the Martin Luther King Club of Fort Wayne, Ind. were at the tribute also.
The event was held at the Western Sizzler, so we ate more southern cuisine and even tried calamari, which is squid. By the time we got back to the hotel and a run to Wal-Mart, most of us were exhausted from a long and educational day.
We also discovered that the city of Meridian’s manhole covers and supporting cement that holds them up, are not very strong. The bus ran over one today while parking and it broke into pieces. Luckily, our tire did not get stuck in there or else we wouldn’t have been going anywhere else today.