Freedom Summer Anniversary continues with program at Nissan Plan - - Jackson, MS

Freedom Summer Anniversary continues with program at Nissan Plant

MADISON COUNTY, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

The 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer continues this week. Some of the most influential figures in Mississippi civil rights history spoke at the Nissan plant in Canton.

Freedom Summer began as an effort in 1964 to educate and register tens of thousands of African-Americans to vote in Mississippi. Those crucial months took place nearly one year after the assassination of Mississippi civil rights activist Medgar Evers.  

"I hear the shot. I see the blood. I see our children running out of the door saying, 'Daddy, Daddy, get up,'" said Myrlie Evers-Williams, remembering the day her husband Medgar died.  

Those images Evers-Williams calls "ghosts" in her memories. Her experiences were part of Monday's panel discussion.  

Before Freedom Summer, registered African-American voters were non-existent in some areas of the Magnolia State.   Forty percent of African-Americans were registered to vote in the South, but in Mississippi, that number was six percent.  

Former Mississippi Governor William Winter said one particular complaint, from the president of Alcorn A&M, stuck with him to this day.  

"He said, I have a pHd degree from Indiana University, one of the great universities of the country. And yet when I go into the courthouse in Port Gibson, they say I am not qualified to register to vote," said Winter.  

Nearly a hundred turned out for the event, including Nissan employees and community partners, even ministers from around the state. Those who spoke agreed that the state still has a ways to go, but it's made considerable progress in the last fifty years.  

"Honesty is one of the things that I hope Americans will begin to embrace: honesty about who we are, and our real commitment to human dignity and justice," Evers-Williams said.  

This was one of a number of Freedom Summer events going on this week, most planned by the NAACP, which has been pushing for unionization at the Nissan Canton facility.

No mention of unions was made during Monday's event. A Nissan spokesman said the company held the discussion because Freedom Summer's efforts led to the diverse workforce they have today.  

One of Winter's statements seems to echo that. The former governor recalled a statement he made to Evers-Williams more than 30 years ago.  

"Miss Evers, we white folks owe as much to you and your martyred husband and the other leaders in the civil rights movement as black people do because you freed us, too," Winter said. "We were prisoners of a system where we were not free to speak as we would like to have spoken."

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