By Alan Bean
Ever since Friends of Justice was asked to look into the case of Curtis Flowers, we have been intrigued with Mississippi. The most intense confrontations between civil rights and states rights took place in the Magnolia state. Most educated Americans are vaguely aware that hundreds of freedom riders were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi in 1961. The Emmett Till story, for very good reason, has received a lot of attention. The Freedom Summer of 1964, culminating in the murder of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, has entered the American historical lexicon.
But so much has been forgotten. Who today remembers the voter registration struggles in places like Greenwood, Cleveland and Grenada? How many are aware of the intimate link between the Emmett Till case and the Montgomery bus boycott? How many educated Americans are familiar with the heroic work of Sam Block, Diane Nash, Amzie Moore and Aaron Henry (to name just a few)?
Amazing stories have been forgotten because in Mississippi nobody won. The civil rights people won a few battles, but the states rights people won the war. Jim Crow may be dead, but civil rights backlash has controlled American politics for decades.
The Friends of Justice civil rights tour devoted nine intense days to these stories. “To understand the world,” William Faulkner said, “you must first understand a place like Mississippi.” Over the next few days I will be writing a series of posts dedicated to a parallel proposition: To understand America in 2011 you must first understand the Mississippi Delta in 1963. Some of these stories will be familiar, some will not. But this series of posts isn’t driven by an antquarian interest in days long past; in June of 2011, Friends of Justice went to Mississippi in search of America.