[As told to the Celebration of Unsung Heroes on the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Movement events of 1963 at the Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, California.]
I am Bright Winn, and I was in Sunflower County, Indianola, from June of '64 to June of '65. The stories I'm relating today were given to me 40 years later. One of them in particular talks about progress that has happened down there. Forty years after, I found myself in the Delta being driven by Dr. Stacy White who teaches at Mississippi Valley State University, right there, in Itta Bena.
And we were driving throughout the Delta, the old flat Delta, and we were talking. We were violating SNCC rules 40 years later. We were an integrated couple in a car in the same seat. SNCC rules: If you must drive integrated, separate the seats. We were driving through the Delta, and we went up into the hill country searching for a museum of a Blues singer. We're going along with trees that are hanging over the road, and you can never see more than 200 feet, and you come around, and under the weeping willow, and I have an anxiety attack. I was in violation of the rules. I was in a car with a person of another race, and we're in the hill country, Klan territory. And I was feeling very bad.
I said to Stacy, I said, "Do you feel nervous?" And she said, "No, why?" And that spoke volumes. She had grown up there. She had been there for the last 40 years, and it meant nothing to her to drive in the hill country, in Klan territory, with a white man in the same seat in the same car. And I have to say, okay, that's an accomplishment.
And another story I have also came to me from Dr. Stacy White. We went out to see her grandpa's home. Her grandpa is dead, but he had over 110 acres at the far end of an old dirt road that was at least a hour and a half drive out of Indianola. And there were old homes — what we called shotgun shacks — along the way, and she could name, as we were going, the people that no longer lived there. And we got to a very nice, but old place. We looked at her grandpa's land, and on our way out — her father now owns that land and still farms it.
But on the way out, she told me how, when she was this high, she and her twin sister would get a dime each from their grandmother, and on a hot summer's day would be sent on a long country mile to go to the store where they could buy ice cream. She said, but all along the way a screen door would open, "Hi babies, stay away from the tall grass." A window would open and say, "Hi girls, say hi to your grandma for me and stay close to the side of the road." And for the entire mile, they were watched over by the people in these shacks, where they would then get their ice cream, start the walk back, and of course have to eat fast because, as you know, an ice cream and Mississippi sun — well, you eat it fast.
And they would walk home with sticky hands, and those same windows would open. And another comment would be there, and they knew that on the way, they were being protected. They were being overseen by the good people on that road. Then on Sunday, those very same people would leave their homes, and they would go down the road to a wooden building where collectively they would meet and greet and nurture one another and live from the teachings of Jesus Christ. Those people of that time had loving community, a community that gave them the strength to endure the most hateful, the most racist state in the union. Today, praise God and praise those strong people of Mississippi.
Copyright © Bright Winn, 2013
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