keshaperry

Posts Tagged ‘Freedom Summer’

Freedom Summer Redux

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2014 at 7:58 am

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the Mississippi Summer Project or Freedom Summer, yesterday I was faced with showing my state issued identification to cast my ballot in the primaries. A flood of thoughts rushed my mind – from thoughts of listening to my grandmother speak about paying poll taxes to cast her vote to recalling many of the readings and audio and video images where Blacks and Whites alike stormed Mississippi so that people who looked like me could fully participate in this democratic society. And so, in the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer, I dressed the part yesterday – put on my finest clothes and with my freedom in my hands (or in my pocket because that is where I keep my identification) – only to arrive at the precinct to be told I could not vote because the poll worker could not verify my residency – “can you show me your bills? Something that let me know you indeed live at this address?” As I recall, the state of Mississippi’s voter identification law is to verify that I am who I say I am – and that I am indeed listed on the books, so what’s the problem? The problem is the voter identification law can lead to voter suppression, can limit a people’s right to fully participate in democracy. Contrary to Fannie Lou Hamer, the law was on my side; he was corrected by an older white female poll worker…

We have indeed come a very long way in a very short period of time – 50 years – and there is still room to grow; still battles to fight, still hills to climb and victories to grab. The potential for voter suppression exists, and still we march, maybe not as before, but we march via social media, spreading the message through Twitter, Facebook, and any other media we can find. We march through the communities with information sessions, community and church meetings, we march, perhaps more behind the scenes, but the key is that we all continue to march toward freedom…

“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.