Many of you have received a letter signed by Congressman Bennie Thompson and Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi. The letter invites you to an event in Jackson, beginning May 22, 2011 (18 days after our reunion in Washington, D.C.) in which they propose to "honor and celebrate" the Freedom Riders.
Our names were used in this letter without our permission. The letter says, "We have already been in touch with the Riders organizing for the anniversary — Diane Nash, John Lewis, Hank Thomas, Ralph Fertig, C.T. Vivian and Rev. James Lawson." It is true that they wrote letters to the signatories of this letter, inviting us and all Freedom Riders to attend the Mississippi event. However, they did not tell you that Diane Nash responded to their letter on our behalf and said that in keeping with how we did things in the 1960s, we would consult with the Freedom Riders so that we could formulate a collective response to their invitation. She said that we would reply when we completed checking with all the Freedom Riders. The sponsors of the proposed Mississippi event proceeded to contact and invite Freedom Riders individually. The way our names were used seemed to imply that we approve of and/or endorse the Mississippi event.
We do not approve of and in no way endorse the event that is proposed for Mississippi. We oppose it and will not be in attendance.
Reverend C.T. Vivian and Diane Nash have been working with a project in Neshoba County, MS for the last five years, so we have had an opportunity to learn, to some extent, what is going on in that state.
Mississippi white racists have discovered the millions of dollars that can be derived from tourism pertaining to the legacy of the civil rights movement. They are in the process of stealing the legacy of the civil rights movement. They have concluded that they can make more tourism money if the State of Mississippi takes on a more liberal image, so they are making efforts to change their image without changing their racism. If nothing is done, descendants of the Mississippi terrorists who burned homes and churches, lynched martyrs and persecuted activists of the civil rights movement, will benefit financially from the legacy of the Movement, while descendants of the black people who made the Movement will remain in poverty and in prison. There is every reason to believe that the monies unjustly derived from the legacy of the Movement will be used to further oppress black people in Mississippi.
Rather than honoring and celebrating the Freedom Riders, the proposed occasion will mock us by causing the Freedom Riders to appear to give credibility to this state that does not deserve credibility in the area of race relations. The assumption is being made that the Freedom Riders do not understand what the State of Mississippi is really doing.
A lot has changed in the state, but be assured, racism is alive and well in Mississippi.
Here are some of the reasons we are opposed to the event that the State of Mississippi is planning.
For financial profit,
Now they are stealing the legacy of the civil rights movement so they can profit from tourism.
This is the worst element to have control of our history; they should not be trusted to portray the history of the Movement accurately.
A couple of the distortions that they already are pushing include the idea that it was just a few "bad apples" that were racists in this state. (State and local law enforcement agencies and other governmental and societal entities have not been held accountable for their crimes.) Obituaries of government officials and others are purged of the racist things for which they stood and/or for which they voted and they are portrayed as though they were statesmen and honorable citizens.
In order to project a more liberal image and despite the fact that they have sufficient evidence to convict many more, they prosecute a handful of usually low income perpetrators. They are protecting the vast majority of the murderers still living, including especially those who were, are and/or have become wealthy. We know of 50 black Mississippi citizens whose murders remain, in 2010, uninvestigated and/or unprosecuted.
A few pertinent facts:
Data in this section are from A Portrait of Mississippi: Mississippi Human Development Report 2009, a publication of the American Human Development Project.
Figures this section are from The Nation, July 11, 2005, "Racism Rebooted" by Gary Younge.
The best way the Mississippi governor could "honor and celebrate" Freedom Riders would be to bring the quality of life of Mississippi blacks approximately equal to that of Mississippi whites. How can he claim to honor Freedom Riders while grossly dishonoring black citizens of his state?
It is hypocritical of Haley Barbour to celebrate and honor Freedom Riders when he has not even apologized for the arrest and treatment of Freedom Riders at Parchman prison.
Barbour rejected federal stimulus money that would have helped low income people and has announced that he will file a lawsuit against the federal government to block health care reform. He sought the merger and/or closing of the state's three public HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities); however he has not proposed the merger and/or closing of "Ole Miss," Mississippi State, and the University of Southern Mississippi. He has refused a commutation of sentence and/or pardon for the Scott sisters. Gladys Scott was 19 and Jamie was 22 when they were jailed for a robbery that allegedly netted the sum of 11 dollars. They have been in prison nearly 15 years and Jamie is seriously ill. Both African-American women insist that they did not commit the robbery.
Haley Barbour displays a confederate flag in his office according to Newsweek, January 11, 2010 issue. The article is titled, "The Anti-Obama Could a wealthy, white, well-connected southerner really grow up to be president? Haley Barbour can't wait to find out."
Freedom Riders received permanent injuries; one had permanent brain damage; some had bones broken and one suffered a stroke as a result of the beating and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. For Mississippi to use this event to make money is contemptible.
Revenue generated by our history that was produced with sacrifice and blood should be used to bring the education level, the median income, and the quality of life of descendants of African slaves in Mississippi approximately equal to the level of white Mississippians.
There is much more that needs to be said, but this letter is getting long.
Finally, here is a link to a press release that confirms their
Freedom Ride Anniversary to be Mississippi Tourist Draw.
Still with you in spirit and in struggle,
Reverend James M. Lawson, Jr.
Reverend C.T. Vivian
Send responses to Professor Ralph D. Fertig
University of Southern California
School of Social Work
667 W. 34th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0411
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