In broad daylight, Thomas Coleman, a member of an elite white family in Lowndes, attacked a group of activists, shooting and killing Jonathan Daniels and critically injuring Richard Morrisroe, both white activists. Coleman was quickly acquitted by an all-white jury that accepted his claim of self-defense. The fact that the activists were released from jail suddenly, for no apparent reason, suggests that Coleman was acting as part of a wider conspiracy. This is just the most dramatic of the many ways the white elite used violence and misused the legal system in an effort to sustain their authority and advantages.
“Stand up for what is right even if you are the only one standing,” Hollis Watkins said to students in the Hip-Hop Detoxx session during the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement Inc. annual conference.
The 10th anniversary conference from March 18-21, 2015 was a gathering of Civil Rights veterans, community activists, teachers, and students on the campus of Tougaloo College.
Teaching for Change staff member Julian Hipkins III attended the conference and shared these highlights. (To learn more, read the brief overview of the conference prepared by the conference organizers.)
Focus on Youth
In Hip-Hop Detoxx, co-founder Enoch Muhammad spoke about the importance of having pride in the accomplishments of past generations in order to gain strength to be successful in the future. During the conference, numerous sessions were held to honor the courage of the veterans and focus on the present state of all the rights that they fought for.
The Canton High School concert choir performed, followed by a video tribute to fallen heroes of the Mississippi freedom struggle.
During lunch, Dave Dennis spoke about his experiences during the Civil Rights Movement. He was introduced by Dennis Dahmer, son of murdered Civil Rights Movement activist Vernon Dahmer. Tougaloo College president Dr. Beverly Hogan stressed the importance of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) today.
In the session “Going Public: The Preservation and Improvement of Public Schools, The Bottom Quartile: Lifting America’s Floor,” moderator William Buster of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation guided the panel in a discussion of the preservation and improvement of public schools. The panelists were Dr. Ella Davis, Dave Dennis, and Sabrina Stevens (via Skype.)
The conference was a reminder of the progress that has been made and the long road ahead for justice.
McComb High School students had the honor of speaking with Freedom Rider Hezekiah Watkins by phone on February 7, 2015. Leading up to the call, students prepared a series of question to gain as much information as possible from Mr. Watkins. When Mr. Watkins was asked how he got involved in the Freedom Rides, he informed the students that he initially went to the greyhound bus station to see the Freedom Riders. Once he arrived, he was mistaken for a Freedom Rider, arrested, and sent to Parchman Prison for being a bystander in the crowd.He shared that the humiliation stuck with him more than the beatings and that he doesn’t think that he would ever get over being spat in the face. When the Freedom Riders were arrested, they were taken to jail in the back of garbage trucks that were already filled with garbage. Mr. Watkins told the students that this experience inspired him to get involved with the Civil Rights Movement. Mr. Watkins enlightened the students on many things that they did not know. He agreed to meet with the students in McComb in a couple of weeks.
“Carter Woodson described February as the time we celebrated what we learned about ourselves year-round. By his plan, our study starts March 1.” — Greg Carr
How do you include Black history throughout the year? A good conversation to have with students is the significance of Black History Month in schools across the country.
In the documentary More Than A Month, director Shukree Hassan Tilghman explores these questions while traveling across the country in search of the answer. One of the places he visits is the annual Association for the Study of African American Life and History convention. This year marks the 100th anniversary of ASALH, the organization that launched Black History Month.
This documentary is a great way to initiate conversations in your classrooms about celebrating not only Black History Month, but other commemorative months, heroes, and holidays. Another resource is the book Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Multicultural, Anti-Racist, Education and Staff Development.
Watch a trailer for the film here:
For the past few weeks, my students have been using Historypin to reinvent their Black History projects. In year’s past, I have explored several options for making these projects more appealing including having the students create poster boards, websites, and even give speeches. I find that with Historypin, students are exposed to so many different elements. They are researching, writing, and incorporating technology into learning.
Tristal Watson is the first Mississippi Teacher Fellow to engage her class in the new Uncovering Mississippi’s Hidden History page on Historypin. As you can see from the examples, below, this Hattiesburg middle school social studies teacher has had great results. Not only are her students learning history, but they are also writing for an audience and sharing what they’ve learned with the world.
The students were responsible for pinning one place, person or event (as outlined in their rubric) each week. Here are three “pins” from her 7th grade U.S. history students. Click on each one to see them on the Historypin map. They are set in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Alabama. (The student “pins” for Mississippi went on both the overall Historypin map and the Uncovering Mississippi’s Hidden History page.)
It is important to have very clear expectations. Since this is a public site, I strongly encourage the use of a template so that the teacher can filter all information before students put it on History Pin. I had to go back and do this after they started, so my students are still in the process of getting all of their work approved. This is a great resource to encourage individual research. I highly recommend using it.
Teaching for Change would like to feature more stories about how teachers engage their students in the use of Historypin. Teachers can create a class profile or have individual students create a profile at Historypin. There are instructions at the Civil Rights Teaching website. Let project director Julian Hipkins III know if your class participates and/or if you have questions.
Longtime civil rights activist and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party organizer Jesse Harris died of natural causes at the age of 75 on January 28, 2015. Harris was a board member of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. We offer here a variety of key sources for learning about the life and achievements of Harris including a news article, video interviews, and a tribute poem.
This foot soldier of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement will forever be remembered as a steadfast community organizer who worked tirelessly for justice and equality, said Hollis Watkins, chairman of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement.
“It is our esteemed honor to have been a part of his life, he a part of ours, and his legacy engrained in the civil and human rights we enjoy and continue to fight for today.”
Continue reading this article about Harris by Jerry Mitchell in The Clarion Ledger.
This video clip provides excerpts from interviews with Jesse Harris in 1963 and 1964, courtesy of the Harvey Richards Media Archive.
Jesse Harris got involved in the Civil Rights Movement early in his career. After he heard about the murders of Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, and Mack Charles Parker in Poplarville, Mississippi, Harris was catapulted into the movement for social justice.
As he recalls, in school, Harris had to write a paper regarding current events taking place—so, he wrote about Mack Charles Parker. His teacher denied accepting the paper because she said it was too controversial to discuss during this tumultuous time in history.
Continue reading this profile of Harris on Freedom50.org
Jesse Harris — A Frontline Soldier in Mississippi
Tribute poem by Tim Jenkins
Who can dare to sound a worthy hymn for Jesse?
Who can capture the unspoken eloquence of his life and service?
The only universally known biographical detail about him was that he was ever
there for every call and every high or low duty needed by his people.
His lanky stature always memorably housed beneath the bib overalls of the
common man, he reassured whoever spoke at a mass meeting that there was at
least one in the audience listening to and believing what was said with his life. His
“Amen” was all that was needed for a speaker to know that the message had been
both received and heard, as well as to be acted on.
He spoke without speeching and what he said came from his heart and not just his
tongue. When he sang our songs, it was not from his lips, but from his heart, and
we heard him in ours.
It was through him that the answer came to DuBois’s question, “Will the Souls of
Blackfolk thrive?” It was he who showed the good Doctor the proof and price of
what that answer meant.
It is lovely that he left without being bent by old age as one final lesson to give to
us that “Strong men keep a coming on . . . . Strong men, getting stronger,” just like
Sterling Brown said they would.
We won’t have to pray for Jesse.
It is Jesse, who will have to pray for us to allow us by his example to become men
and women, even stronger!
Your SNCC Buddy,
© Tim Jenkins, For All of US
January 29, 2015