Civil rights reunion brings memories of struggle

INDIANOLA, Miss.–Veterans of the historic Mississippi Freedom Summers of the early 1960s gathered for their fourth Sunflower County Civil Rights Reunion in this small Delta town in September. Their hair now beginning to gray, most of the three dozen

INDIANOLA, Miss.–Veterans of the historic Mississippi Freedom Summers of the early 1960s gathered for their fourth Sunflower County Civil Rights Reunion in this small Delta town in September.

Their hair now beginning to gray, most of the three dozen alumni were teenagers when they answered the call, putting their very lives on the line to face what became the most brutal legal and extra-legal resistance to Black advancement out of serfdom and subservience in the 20th century.

The reunion was more than simply a meeting to reminisce about old times. “It is a reflection and a celebration of the struggle,” said reunion organizer Charles McLaurin, who moved to Indianola in 1961 from Jackson, Miss. to coordinate the Delta Project for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

“We did have fear,” McLaurin told The Final Call. But the humiliation was worse than the fear, he said. “White men didn’t want a Black man to look them in the face when they talked to them. And I saw how whites just misused us. And I made me a vow that I just wasn’t going to (take) it. Before I’d (take) it, I’d be dead,” he continued.

“Fannie Lou Hamer says it best. She says: ‘We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ You sick of the way it is, and so tired of it, that you either got to now lay down and take it or do something about it. And I decided to do something about it. Most of the SNCC people and people who got involved in the movement were just sick and tired of the life they were living and the way we were being treated and they decided to get up and do something.

“Many times I would take part in demonstrations, when I went to demonstrate at the Fairgrounds in Jackson for segregated fairs, I was going in there and the dogs were there, yeah, fear was in me, but how was I going to overcome that fear? Challenge the fear! And then say that ‘God is on our side.’ The time was right. Time was on our side. History was on our side.”

The sacrifices paid off for some of the veterans, as well as for the state and the nation as a whole, participants said.

One of the movement veterans is now a retired judge, others became doctors and attorneys, as well as elected officials.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History unveiled three historical markers in Indianola: at the Giles Penny Savers Store, whose owners were active in the Civil Rights movement; at the location of the Freedom School; and at the home of movement veteran Irene Magruder.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. was frequently beaten and jailed for his work as a SNCC leader. He is the only person still alive who spoke at the historic 1963 March on Washington.

“Sometimes I feel a little strange. I feel like, ‘Was it worth it?’” Lewis told The Final Call. “And then I look around and see the changes, and I say ‘Yes. It was worth it. It was necessary.’…That’s why we must keep moving, keep the faith and stay involved…and the struggle will not be in vain.”

Special to the NNPA from the Final Call

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