If given a word association test, many would respond to “civil rights struggle” with “Mississippi.” How much do you really know about the past struggles, the on-going struggles, for racial justice in my home state?
On 4 January 2010, I noted in “Greed and ghosts of Mississippi” that one of my heroes, Bobby DeLaughter, was headed off to prison for lying to the FBI during a corruption investigation.
DeLaughter, portrayed by Alec Baldwin in the movie “Ghosts of Mississippi,” was the prosecuting attorney who finally won a conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
Having come of age in Jackson, Mississippi, during the turbulent civil rights struggles, all of this was very close to my heart. I was stunned, therefore, when people I deem informed had never heard of the case, the movie or Medgar Evers.
May 4 marked the 40th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State in Ohio, but did my readers know that 10 days later, on May 14, 1970, there was a similar incident at Jackson State University, then all-black Jackson State College, in Mississippi – a law enforcement barrage which left two student dead and many more injured?
Growing up I lived in such proximity to Jackson State to hear the Tigers marching band and the cheers of football fans.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the Jackson State shootings, Democracy Now! hosts Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman interviewed longtime Mississippi civil rights activist Gene Young. Young, by a twist of fate, was born on the Jackson State campus and became a hero on that fateful midnight.
I thank my friend Clara for sending me the transcript of the interview, and I would encourage readers to spend some time this weekend reading it in its entirety. It is a window to the past, replete with all the players and the places which helped bring about Dr. King’s dream.
I have added personal notes throughout the interview from my own recollections and experiences.
As to the question of why the media paid and still pay more attention to the Kent State slayings, I agree with Mr. Young’s assessment that whites shooting white students was bigger news, in the context of the times, than whites shooting black students.
And particularly heart-warming are Young’s words of tribute to our Mississippi home.
Step back into the struggle. This enthralling and enlightening interview is in The Reading Room.