Salynn McCullom


As remembered by Wendell O'Neal
August 2, 2019

I have often wondered where Salynn was, and how she had fared since I last saw her in Southern Illinois.

Salynn came to Southern Illinois University, ostensibly to take a break "up north" from the front lines of the movement. When she got there, she found that the legacy of the area — which attempted to secede from Illinois and the Union to join the Confederacy in the run-up to the Civil War — was still very much alive. She communicated her findings to her SNCC compatriots, who urged her to start a movement to address the issues that she found. Among those that she recruited to that end were my older brother, John O'Neal, and me.

She asked the group to identify a good focal spot where the racism and discrimination would be raw and obvious. John and I were among those who immediately said: Cairo!. This was an historic river town at the literal southern tip of Illinois, and was very near to the town where John and I had grown up, Mound City. We knew Rev. Blaine Ramsey who was the pastor of Ward Chapel AME Church in Cairo, and arranged a meeting with him. It was quickly decided to 'test' the Mark Twain Restaurant, which was one of the better restaurants in town, where we were quickly and clearly told that they "... don't serve colored people." Based on that response, a movement was started.

Salynn was a driving and guiding force for all that followed. That action in Cairo provided the spring-board into the movement for John, as well as Chuck Neblett and Charles Cohen (who was a high school senior that we recruited to lead the youth group). Each of them continued in the movement as their life's work.

I'm saddened to see her listed on the Memorial Page. She was a significant figure in many of our lives.

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