“Mississippi’s Conscience”

In Uncategorized on March 3, 2011 at 9:19 am

“Mississippi’s Conscience” was the title of a Boston Globe August 7, 1964 editorial. The editorial essentially discussed the “cold-blooded vicious murder” of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner and the subsequent arrests of the “the ultimate act of extremists…” Of Freedom Summer, Unita Blackwell said “people were threatened, folks was put in jail just because we wanted people to try to register to vote.” For many participants of Freedom Summer, there would be nothing else to compare to that experience. I can recall watching videos of Freedom Summer, and for me and many of my then high school classmates, it was a foreign and distant concept. That Mississippi was not the Mississippi we knew. And seemingly that Mississippi is often portrayed and recreated by some–Mississippi has yet to shed many of the darkest images from the past.

For some people I meet, they ask me why I haven’t left the state. I ask them why should I. Immediately, I am inundated with “well the racism is” and I quickly stop them. The Mississippi I see and know is not the Mississippi they paint. The Mississippi I know has matured, and yes there are seeds from the past, but it is not 1964. I have often said that the Mississippi I know has great character because of its complicated and complex past. And it was because of people like Dr. Roy DeBerry and Aviva Futorian, Freedom Riders, who not only took time, but put their lives on the line so that I can sit here and type this today. They put their lives on the line so my Mississippi can be the place I’ve come to love. The old Mississippi is a foreign place. And yet, the Mississippi I know is a foreign place to those who have not visited here.

But for those who buck the stereotypes and images from the old Mississippi, the state quickly becomes home. A friend of mine is almost approaching her 1 year anniversary of being a Mississippian. That is a milestone that deserves celebrating within itself, for she’s a great asset to the state and the local community. She’s what I call a citizen of the world–she was born in Africa, traveled and lived in Uganda, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. And now she’s here, in Mississippi. Some may ask “why are you here?” But I ask, what took you so long to come? And quickly she says that “for a person who has never been South, Mississippi reminds me of home.” For this white African, of all her travels and experiences, life in Mississippi has not only reminded her of home, but is her home.

There are vestiges of the “old South,” but there are many more examples of what Roy and Aviva thought Mississippi should be and is continually striving to be. I know this is not a perfect state, but it is perfect for me. My Mississippi has a conscience, one that is constantly challenged and checked every day.

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