October 11, 2012Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
Boy, at this point I can barely remember what day it was and which towns we visited. Living out of a suitcase has gotten old. I am a bus-riding expert. I long for my family, my bed, my routine.
And yet, even amidst my first-world struggles, there are these amazing bright spots. I do remember what we did today: we went to visit Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Philadelphia, MS. And there, we met some amazing folks.
Mt. Zion was the church that had burned down and that the three activists (Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman) had gone to check on when they were arrested, detained, released and then murdered. Their bodies were not found for six weeks: the white folks in town closed ranks around their own, and the ones who would have spoken out were afraid of repurcussions from the Klan. It was 40 years before some one was brought to trial for the murders.
We heard about the night of the church burning from Jewel Rush McDonald. She was getting married later in the year, so the night the church burned (and that Klan members were pulling people from their cars and beating them up) she packed up all her worldly possessions into a box, sealed it up, and put it in the chicken coop. If they burned the house, she figured she could run. She didn’t want to lose her clothes. It was a sad story, on top of an already tragic one.
And then Leroy Clemens started talking. He was just a young child, so he doesn’t remember much. He does remember that he never heard about the activists until he was in middle school. Long story short, he grew to realize that for the town to heal, they need to talk. Thus, in 2004, the Philadelphia Coalition was born, which brought white and black folks, along with Choctaw folks who also live in the area, to the same table to tell stories.
People heard stories that they never would have heard otherwise. They talked about why they love Philadelphia. About what they think the towns strengths, and struggles, are. Leroy said they didn’t set out to bring a murderer to justice, but the more they talked and shared, and brought these things out into the light that had been hidden away, they more they realized they needed to do something. And so together, black, white and Choctaw, wrote the state and asked for justice. And one of the murderers was arrested, tried and found guilty.
But here is the really neat thing about an already wonderful story: It didn’t stop there. Leroy told us that they worked with the state so that all Mississippi schools now require a Civil Rights component be taught, and that a part of that curriculum (which goes beyond Rosa Parks and MLK) is to focus on the particular history in the town/region.
And there is more. So much more.
Neshoba County discovered that the cancer of racism infects each person it touches. Although the ravages of the illness found a face in this community, racism is also a part of the breadth and depth of American history and culture. The cure for this epidemic is found only in the hearts of individuals. Today, Neshoba County has begun to heal. The sacrifices of the lives of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner helped ensure a better future for Neshoba County, Mississippi, and the nation.
Out of tragedy can come the most amazing things. It is that hope, that faith, that drove those in the Movement. It is that hope and faith that drives so many of us to continue to work for the beloved community, with peace, liberty and justice for all.