The NBC Learn series, "Finishing the Dream" continues in Jackson, Mississippi, where movement veterans, community activists and religious leaders talk to students about the civil rights movement and what people can do today to keep lessons from that movement alive.
Finishing the Dream: Learning from the Civil Rights Era (Full Episode)
Jackson, Mississippi Town Hall
MAGGIE WADE, Anchor:
Welcome to our town hall meeting “Finishing the Dream: Learning from the Civil Rights Movement.” I’m Maggie Wade with NBC affiliate WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi.
HOWARD BALLOU, Anchor:
And I’m Howard Ballou, also with the NBC affiliate WLBT News in Jackson, Mississippi. We are inside the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium of Jackson State University, located in the capital of a state very central to the civil rights struggle.
WADE: Well, we’ll be discussing the past struggles and accomplishments and the civil rights issues of today. It’s sponsored by NBC Learn and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
BALLOU: Now, we are joined by a very distinguished and well-respected panel of guests. Our audience includes students from Jackson State University, as well as educators attending the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute to study civil rights in the 1960s.
WADE: We start with Reverend Kenneth Dean. 1969, he and United Church of Christ made history when they won a lawsuit to revoke the FCC license from WLBT after proving the station withheld NBC’s network coverage of the civil rights movement. Reverend Dean now ministers to former Klansmen.
BALLOU: And Jerry Mitchell is a widely known investigative reporter for the Clarion Ledger. His work has prompted the reopening of cold murder cases from the civil rights era, leading to arrests and convictions. Mitchell was a 2006 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a 2009 recipient of a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation for his enterprising work as a journalist.
WADE: Albert Sykes is a 26 year-old leader in the Young People’s Project, which is an extension of the Algebra Project started by Bob Moses in the 1960s. The mission of the YPP is to use math literacy as a tool to develop young leaders.
BALLOU: And, also on the panel, civil rights activist and author Dr. John M. Perkins who, through his foundation for reconciliation and development, has been working for decades to restore communities through the Gospel message and Christian-based volunteerism.
WADE: James Meredith is best known for being the first African-American to be admitted into the University of Mississippi. Riots erupted and federal troops stepped in. It was the state’s most visible stand against integration.
Well, we’ll be discussing several topics from the murders of three civil rights activists in Philadelphia to the enrollment of James Meredith at Ole Miss.
BALLOU: And each topic will begin with a brief video clip followed by a panel discussion and questions from the audience. The first clip is a brief overview of the civil rights movement showing us some of the unforgettable scenes that shaped our history and ultimately, our future.
ANCHORMAN: [IN CLIP] Emmett Till is buried near Chicago, his hometown. While Emmett was visiting a great uncle in the Mississippi Delta in August 1955, he whistled at a white woman. That whistle cost him his life.
MAMIE MOBLEY, EMMETT TILL’S MOTHER: [IN CLIP] I hope that his death will certainly start a movement in these United States.
CHET HUNTLEY, NBC NEWS: [IN CLIP] Most Negroes in Montgomery, Alabama, are boycotting the city buses because a woman who refused to take a segregated seat was fined in police court.
ANCHORMAN: [IN CLIP] Governor Ross Barnett again refused to let Negro student James Meredith to enroll at the University of Mississippi.
FRANK MCGEE, NBC NEWS: [IN CLIP] A multitude of Negroes and whites moved on Washington today in what is easily the most massive demonstration ever seen in the capital or in the nation.
FANNIE LOU HAMER: [IN CLIP] Eighteen of us traveled twenty-six miles to the county courthouse in Indianola to try to register to become first-class citizens.
FRED HAMPTON: [IN CLIP] If you dare to struggle, you dare to win, if you dare not to struggle, then you don’t deserve to win…you don’t deserve to win. We’re saying that you’ve got to get out here and got to involve yourself in the struggle.
MALCOLM X: [IN CLIP] Be a man. Earn what you need for your own family. Then your family respects you. They’re proud to say “that’s my father.”
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: [IN CLIP] I have no moral conflict. I want to live in my own as anybody in this building, and sometimes I begin to doubt whether I’m going to make it through. ‘Cause I don’t march because I like it. I march because I must, and because I’m a man, and because I’m a child of God.
BALLOU: We’d like to check in with our panelists now, starting with Mr. Meredith. What do those images bring to mind for you?
JAMES MEREDITH, First African American to Enroll at University of Mississippi: What it bring to mind to me is what we should be doing today that we are not doing. And what we are not doing is giving our young people the proper education opportunities that they deserve. Fifty years ago, at least, nine out of every ten black who got a high school diploma could go to a college. Today, less than one out of ten can go to any college. And, to me, that’s a great failure on my part and all of our part. And we got to do better.
BALLOU: Doctor Perkins, respond to that, if you would, sir.
Dr. JOHN M. PERKINS, Founder, John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development: Well, I--I see justice primarily as an economic issue, and how do we in any education, that don’t bring economic progress and is not really education, true education, that bring about assets and ownership that provide goods and services and resources from the neighborhood.
BALLOU: Reverend Dean, I think you have some comments, having lived through that period.
Reverend KENNETH DEAN, Former Director, Mississippi Human Relations Council: In the WLBT experience, we saw the dream getting finished in terms of one institution. Because when that license was vacated and given to CII to put together a model television station for a bi-racial audience in the south, what did we do?
We ended up with the first black general manager, first black ownership, first station to achieve parity with its audience in terms of black employees. And we integrated there and one of the lessons we learn is you can’t always integrate if you’re working off of the janitor up. But you can integrate if you’re working off of the general manager, who’s black, down.
The experience at WLBT is on record as an achievement that shows, that when people of goodwill, with commitment from church, from labor, from political progressivism, when they commit themselves to it the dream came can be fulfilled because it has been fulfilled, and is present here, today, in this man and in this lady.
Dr. PERKINS: And I-- and I-- I think that’s the-- that’s the example of the kind of education we are talking about: education that don’t just stop at individual ownership but builds a community base where it raises the whole community.
BALLOU: All right, we’d like to open up, uh, questioning now from the audience.
JASMINE WILKSON: Hello, my name is Jasmine Wilkson, and I’m a recent 2010 Social Work graduate from Jackson State University. And I would like to know what can be done to increase, um, the access to higher education among African American males.
ALBERT SYKES, Lead Organizer, The Young People’s Project: Yeah, I think-- part of what has to happen is a cultural shift around the way that we value education in our community.
And so, one thing with black male is that they-- they don’t see black males go to college…that often. And so we have to multiply the example. And so, I think you are in a unique position to be able to be in a community with black boys and be in a community with their mothers and to be able to help to change the culture that pushes young black men to excel. Because I think part of what we-- what we tend to do is ask people to lower the ceiling rather than raise the floor. And so the object is to raise the floor, to bring the people from the bottom closer to the top, while making sure that the top is still solid and-- and is something that people can actually attain and become better, more full-participatory citizens.
BALLOU: We have to go to a quick break and we’ll be right back after this.
WADE: Coming up: Mississippi Burning. The murders of three civil rights workers and the decades-long struggle for justice.
MAGGIE WADE, Anchor: Welcome back. Just after midnight June 21, 1964, three voter registration workers were gunned down in Neshoba County, Mississippi, sending shock waves through an already tense nation. It was not until 2005 when a Neshoba County Grand Jury indicted a seventy-nine-year-old Ku Klux Klan leader on three counts of murder.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: [IN CLIP] NBC News IN DEPTH tonight, call it justice delayed. A 79-year-old man and reputed former leader of the Klan was brought into a Mississippi courtroom today to answer for a notorious crime, the killing of three voter registration workers that stunned the nation over 40 years ago. IN DEPTH tonight, here is NBC's Don Teague.
DON TEAGUE, NBC NEWS: [IN CLIP] It's one of the darkest chapters of the civil rights era. In 1964, three activists in Philadelphia, Mississippi, were ambushed and shot to death, allegedly by members of the Ku Klux Klan. But despite a 1967 trial in federal court that convicted seven alleged Klan members for conspiracy, murder charges were never filed. Jewel McDonald's mother and brother were attacked and severely beaten by the Klan.
JEWEL McDONALD: [IN CLIP] This was murder, and we got a cloud hanging, a dark cloud hanging over our head. We need to clear that up.
TEAGUE: [IN CLIP] McDonald moved away but returned 10 years ago and formed a coalition to demand investigators reopen the case.
McDONALD: [IN CLIP] Hi there.
Unidentified Man #1: [IN CLIP] They liberated all of us.
TEAGUE: [IN CLIP] Hundreds commemorated the 40th anniversary of the killings last June, and a donor pledged a $100,000 reward. James Prince is editor of Philadelphia's newspaper.
JAMES PRINCE: [IN CLIP] We can never bring the--the three men back, but we can seek justice.
TEAGUE: [IN CLIP] And today at the Neshoba County courthouse, 79-year-old Edgar Ray Killen was charged with three counts of murder.
Mr. EDGAR RAY KILLEN: [IN CLIP] Not guilty.
TEAGUE: [IN CLIP] The former Klan leader pleaded not guilty. Most people we've spoken with here today say Philadelphia has changed, and they welcome the murder charges. But for some here, emotions are still raw.
Unidentified Man #2: [IN CLIP] You better shut up, buddy.
TEAGUE: [IN CLIP] Media attention angered a few at the courthouse, among them a man who says he's Killen's brother. He charged a camera crew. And a bomb threat prompted officials to evacuate part of the building. Prosecutors say no further arrests are planned in the killings, which has some of the victims' families worried.
BEN CHANEY (James Chaney's Brother): [IN CLIP] I'm still concerned whether or not Killen is still going to be used as a scapegoat to protect the rich and powerful individuals that was involved in this murder.
TEAGUE: [IN CLIP] A case that may never truly be closed. Don Teague, NBC News, Philadelphia, Mississippi.
WADE: Why don’t we begin with Jerry Mitchell, whose work was instrumental in getting this cold case of murder re-opened.
JERRY MITCHELL, Investigative Journalist, The Clarion Ledger: Well, it’s a-- it’s an amazing story. Basically, Edgar Ray Killen, who was kind of the guy that organized things that night, was finally indicted in that case, and brought to trial. And interestingly -- really the community itself which for so long really didn’t want to talk about this case. I mean, a lot of people in the community didn’t. And yet formed this coalition that kind of came together and urged the state authorities to pursue the case.
Reverend KENNETH DEAN, Former Director, Mississippi Human Relations Council: Howard, one of the important things on this case in terms of justice is that the time that it happened till now, we have a different practice concerning the juries.
Mr. MITCHELL: Right.
Rev. DEAN: And now the jury that hears this information is likely to bring back a more fair decision than what would have happened back in the ‘60s.
WADE: Well, let’s take a question from our audience now.
CANTRICE RUSH: Hi, my name is Cantrice Rush. I’m a second semester junior, Marketing major, here at Jackson State, and my question is if the martyrs of the civil rights movement were still alive, how do you think they would feel about America’s current racial condition?
Dr. JOHN M. PERKINS, Founder, John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development: I think many of them would feel like their sacrifice was in vain. And that ought to pull out of us a greater sense of responsibility. My action, personally, is because I’m black and in gratitude to those black sacrifices like James Meredith, and like Medgar Evers, and like Martin Luther King. And-- and I’m living with that gratitude, because they freed me to be pretty successful.
WADE: Ok. Thank you so much.
Rev. DEAN: Two of these sacrifices are white.
Mr. MITCHELL: True. That’s true.
Rev. DEAN: We got-- we got to include them when we include the list of people who made sacrifices.
Dr. PERKINS: Oh, no doubt. No doubt.
Rev. DEAN: But we just have to be inclusive today amongst ourselves.
Dr. PERKINS: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Rev. DEAN: If we-- if we’re not inclusive here--
Dr. PERKINS: I needed you to know that--
Rev. DEAN: --we certainly have failed.
Dr. PERKINS: I’m motivated by all the sacrifices that were made.
Rev. DEAN: One of the highlights of our time at WLBT, we got a call one night and it came from over in Brandon, and there was a black man who had been beaten near to death, and he had been beaten up by the sheriff over in Brandon. And he was only trying to advance the cause of some civil rights issues and got beat up like this.
And that man—that got beat up that way, that came to the station that night, was Dr. John Perkins, and he’s continued all of this time to give his devotion over to trying to help people understand what it means to love one another. So when we asked a question about if some of these martyrs were here, what would they think. Well, we have living today here on the stage at least two men who’re old enough to have been martyrs, and were martyrs in a kind of way. But we know what they think and say.
WADE: Question please.
NATALIE WOODSON: Hello I’m Natalie Woodson, a sophomore Computer Engineering major here at Jackson State University, and my question today is, how has the struggle changed from the past to now in the ‘90s and 2000s? And what can us young people do to continue the work of the elders of the civil rights?
ALBERT SYKES, Lead Organizer, The Young People’s Project: I think the first thing that young people can do is get off our tails. One of the things that we are is less active when it comes to-- whether it’s moving or sharing information, like we’re very-very much less active, so I’m-- I’m very empowered by the fact that in the ‘60s, people were able to--to create a movement by knocking on doors and talking at church and talking in the grocery store. And yet, we have Twitter, Facebook, text messages, cell phone, like we could call and talk to the people everywhere we go and yet, that’s a thing we do the least is communicate, like, valuable information. So a lot of the times, we communicate around Chris Brown slapped his girlfriend, but we’re not talking about there is schools in Mississippi that’s facing being consolidated or being eliminated altogether. Like, there’s not information that we share.
And so one of the things we can do is take ownership, and so you look at -- I just turned twenty-seven July 10 -- at twenty-six years old Martin Luther King was leading marches of thousands, you know, at fourteen years old Diane Nash was fourteen, she was pregnant and marching in the civil rights movement. So they had a different mindset about what was right and what was wrong.
And so one of the things that impacted me about these three young men that you see on the screen is that for the last fifteen years, I’ve been able -- and been fortunate enough -- to be mentored by Dave Dennis, who owned the car that these young men got killed in. So for me that’s a first hand experience, being able to be around him, being able to also inherit their stories and the reason that they died. So they got in a car that night to go do something that was right, and, so today we easily die to do things that’s not right, that’s not necessarily beneficiary to us, to our community, or-- or anyone around us.
And so we have to change the dynamics of what we value and what it is that we want to stand up for. And we have to also be receptive to communicate not just with each other, but then also I know that some people in this room that probably never had a conversation with a white person.
We run away from each other rather than running to. We’re all Mississippians. We’re all Americans. Science has proved we’re genetically the same 99.6 per cent. And so what we have – so we just have to figure out a way – and it’s—it’s easy. Like, it is not hard work. It’s just about having the will and the drive and the understanding to do what’s right.
HOWARD BALLOU, Anchor: Albert Sykes, thank you so very much. Thank you. We’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be back with more. Still ahead, though, we head to Oxford, Mississippi, where a black air force veteran battled not just a university, but an entire state for his right to higher education.
HOWARD BALLOU, Anchor: Welcome back. September 30, 1962, the campus of the University of Mississippi looked like a war zone. And, by all accounts, it was a battlefield. For hours U.S. Marshals held off bomb-wielding rioters with tear gas and brute force. When the smoke cleared two were dead and several more injured. The reason for the brutal battle: integration.
The following day, James Meredith became the first African-American ever to be enrolled at Ole Miss. In 2007, the University that fought so hard to keep him out, honored Meredith and the trail he blazed for future students of that school.
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: [IN CLIP] In a ceremony some thought they would never see in their lifetime, it honors the courage of one man who took on a school and a system and helped changed the nation. Here's NBC's Martin Savidge.
Unidentified Man #1: [IN CLIP] You refuse to permit us to come in through the door.
Governor ROSS BARNETT: [IN CLIP] Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Man #1: [IN CLIP] All right, governor. Thank you.
Governor ROSS BARNETT: [IN CLIP] I do that politely.
MARTIN SAVIDGE: [IN CLIP] In 1962 James Meredith wanted to go to the University of Mississippi. Because he was black, it took Federal marshals and troops to get him there. The riot that followed left two people dead.
Offscreen Voice: [IN CLIP] It started first with rocks and soda pop bottles being thrown at the marshals. They retaliated, firing tear gas...
SAVIDGE: [IN CLIP] The doors of Ole Miss were finally opened for all.
Mr. JAMES MEREDITH: [IN CLIP] I should hope that the outcome will affect a whole lot of people.
SAVIDGE: [IN CLIP] Today Meredith returned 44 years later, triggering not rage but reflection.
Representative JOHN LEWIS (Democrat, Georgia): [IN CLIP] Because of individuals like James Meredith and many others, we have come a great distance in this country toward laying down the burden of race.
SAVIDGE: [IN CLIP] Hundreds gathered for the unveiling of a monument dedicated to the civil rights movement. (Statue unveiled)
Unidentified Man #3: [IN CLIP] James Meredith.
SAVIDGE: [IN CLIP] It includes a life-size bronze likeness of Meredith standing in front of a doorway.
Mr. MEREDITH: [IN CLIP] All right.
SAVIDGE: [IN CLIP] I asked him if he felt he'd done enough for the cause of civil rights. To answer, he quoted another famous Mississippi son, William Faulkner.
Mr. MEREDITH: [IN CLIP] “The past is never dead. It's not even past. It's all now, you see. Because yesterday won't be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began 10,000 years ago.”
SAVIDGE: [IN CLIP] But today it was about the past, as James Meredith was finally able to come face to face with what he'd done. Open doors, so that others could forever follow. Martin Savidge, NBC. Oxford, Mississippi.
BALLOU: And we’re so fortunate--so fortunate, so fortunate to have Mr. Meredith with us here today. And Mr. Meredith, I know you probably get tired of me saying this, but Maggie and I would not be doing what we’re doing today if it weren’t for people like you who blazed the trail for us. Your thoughts on where we are today.
JAMES MEREDITH, First African American to Enroll at University of Mississippi: Well, I appreciate all of that. But quite frankly, I am extremely disappointed, particularly in myself, as what has happened over the last forty or fifty years from that. Because the reality is that we are giving less opportunity to the people who we acknowledged then we were denying opportunity to.
I think I have come to the solution to our current education problem, and I got a one-minute summary that I want to read.
The truth is that moral and common sense training is equally important to the ABCs and the 123s. Only the Christian church, God’s family, can provide this training in each and every Mississippi community.
The Christian family consists of two parts in Mississippi--the white church and the black church. We all like to pretend that don’t exist. The education problem in Mississippi can be made right by these two bodies working together to train up the children of Mississippi. I’m fully convinced that I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to get black Christians and white Christians to do their part, to educate our children from birth on up.
BALLOU: We have a questioner who would like to ask you a question.
CHANDLER JONES: Good afternoon, my name is Chandler Jones. I’m a junior Chemistry major here at Jackson State University, and my question is for Mr. Meredith. As the first and the only African American at that time to enroll at the University of Mississippi, I would like to know why did you enroll and what did you hoped to accomplish.
Mr. MEREDITH: And for the first time I’m going to tell the whole truth. I always thought that God put me here for a purpose. As a young man, I was ashamed to say that, but I’ve always known it was true. And it didn’t take a genius to figure out up that blacks didn’t enjoy all their rights and privileges of citizenship.
So, basically that’s what it was about. Another part I want to answer is the thing about life and fear. God gave life to human beings through the word of the truth.
So, consequently, as I understood the truth then, I did not have life. I was a dead person. I was doing what I was doing in order to live. So, everybody was talking about how brave I was, scared they going to kill me. To me, it was more than worth the price because what I was doing was seeking life. I mean, so, I’m going to get off this philosophy. I hope that answers your question.
MAGGIE WADE, Anchor: Another question please.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for all of your sacrifices and your contributions. My question is what can you all do to help black people learn how to nurture their children to have better families so we can produce better communities? And any one can answer that.
Dr. JOHN M. PERKINS, Founder, John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development: Well, you-- you ought to come over and visit us at the Perkins Center. Because one of the things that I’m doing is monthly bringing 25 different black men together and trying to teach them how to be men and fathers.
I think we know the problem. We know there is connection between the fact that 97 percent of the prison population comes from homes where there is no father. So, the only solution for that is to develop fathers.
WADE: Doctor Perkins, I hate to interrupt you, but we do have a student who wants to ask a question.
RACHAEL WILLIS: My name is Rachael Willis, and I’ll be a senior at the University of Mississippi this year, and I have a question for Mr. Meredith. Do you think that today, African American students feel completely comfortable applying to and attending Ole Miss? And if not what else can we do to achieve that?
Mr. MEREDITH: Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve talked to a lot of students recently, including recent graduates, and it is clear to them they are not comfortable. And frankly, I think answering the last lady’s question about the family and your question is the same. We’re going to have to build from the bottom up.
Any child that reached the second grade and cannot read, and that’s nine out of ten black males, is never—is very rarely—going to succeed at Ole Miss, or at Jackson State, or anywhere else. So that’s where we’re going to have to start doing, and whether we like it or not we’re going to have to do it.
WADE: Thank you Mister Meredith. Up next, a case of justice delayed but not denied.
MAGGIE WADE, Anchor: A civil rights leader is gunned down in his own driveway. Decades later, a suspect is tried for a third time for the murder of NAACP Field Secretary, Medgar Evers.
While some, even the civil rights leader’s own neighbors, did not understand the point of trying a man so many years after the crime, it open the door for future cold cases of the civil rights period to be prosecuted, and proved justice can still be served even if it comes decades later. Let’s take a look back to February, 1994.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: [IN CLIP] In a Jackson, Mississippi courtroom today, thirty years after civil rights leader Medgar Evers was murdered, a jury found the prime suspect guilty of the crime. NBC’s Kenley Jones was there.
KENLEY JONES, NBC NEWS: [IN CLIP] Immediately after the verdict, Byron De La Beckwith was taken into custody and booked at the county jail as he began serving his life sentence. He will be eligible for parole in ten years.
The outspoken segregationist had always been the prime suspect in the 1963 ambush slaying of civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Jackson. Twice before all-white juries failed to reach verdicts at Beckwith’s murder trials. But this time the jury was composed of eight blacks and four whites who found him guilty. District Attorney Ed Peters said finally justice has been done.
District Attorney ED PETERS: [IN CLIP] Really, honest-to-god and truth, justice has been done. A bragging murderer has been convicted.
JONES: [IN CLIP] Evers’s wife Myrlie rushed to his side the night he died. Today, she rejoiced at the verdict.
MYRLIE EVERS, MEDGAR EVERS’S WIDOW: [IN CLIP] All I want to do is say, yea, Medgar! Yea! Yea! Yea!
JONES: [IN CLIP] With two of her three children and other supporters at her side, she said the thirty year struggle to bring her husband’s killer to justice has focused attention on racism and the need to eradicate it.
MYRLIE EVERS: [IN CLIP] Perhaps Medgar did more in death than he could have in life. But he lives, and he lives through all of us.
WADE: Again, Jerry Mitchell, instrumental in helping bring this case to justice after so many years.
JERRY MITCHELL, Investigative Journalist, The Clarion Ledger: Brings back a lot of memories, uh, it brings back the memories of going to interview Byron De La Beckwith in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. Uh, that was quite-- quite an experience. He insisted on walking me out to the car and, you know, he got me out to the car and said, “If you write positive things about white Caucasian Christians, God will bless you. If you write negative things about white Caucasian Christians, God will punish you. If God does not punish you directly, several individuals will do it for him.”
So, his wife had made me a sandwich. I-- I think you can guess what I did with the sandwich. I mean, I-- I can make a long list of all the different things that-- that took place and-- and did happen. And Byron De La Beckwith was convicted in the exact same courtroom that he was tried nearly thir-- thirty years to the day. And that really kicked it off. That really began kind of the wave of looking at cold cases here. Not only here in Mississippi, but across the south and across the country.
Reverend KENNETH DEAN, Former Director, Mississippi Human Relations Council: I had a chance to visit with Byron De La Beckwith in Signal Mountain, too. Byron De La Beckwith was thought, even by his fellow associates in the Klan, to be a crazy man. And I can say that’s true. He walked me to the car and he threatened me by saying, “I’ve been accused of killing one person, and if I get any static from you being here today, I might could just do that again, couldn’t I brother Dean.” But what I want to say is that as bad as racism is in the general public, that by and large there is a community out there of people who are not crazy, and who can be worked with, and who can hear Mr. Meredith and Mr. Perkins’s message that God is love. Because if God is love, there is potential for overcoming this problem, both in a general societal way, as well as in one-to-one relationships.
HOWARD BALLOU: We have a questioner now. Go ahead with your question sir.
CORTEZ MALLS: My name is Cortez Malls and I am a Public Policy and Education double major from the University of Mississippi. How did the death of Medgar Evers transform and reenergize the civil rights movement both in Mississippi and United States?
Mr. MITCHELL: Well, it was-- it was huge, it played a huge role. Uh, I mean, that before Medgar’s death there were, uh, no black police officers in Jackson, Mississippi, for example. The City of Jackson didn’t really have-- hardly any black employees.
And so, all those walls began to come down after-- after Medgar’s assassination. So, it played an extremely important role, I think, in terms of beginning to break down the barriers, specifically here in Jackson and-- and then that, of course, helped inspire too, I think, those who realized ‘let’s come work in Mississippi’ and Freedom Summer took place the following year.
Rev. DEAN: Don’t you think also that it was around the issue of, uh, his being shot—Medgar’s being shot that the justice department began--
Mr. MITCHELL: To get involved.
Rev. DEAN: --to take more active role and be realistic about racial justice.
Mr. MITCHELL: I believe it’s correct. And you’re right--the justice department began to get involved, FBI began more active -- they were involved in Medgar Evers’s investigation. They didn’t prosecute the case, but were involved in the investigation and actually arrested Beckwith in that case.
BALLOU: Well, forty years ago, law enforcement officers opened fire on the very campus we’re meeting on today. We’ll talk about the JSU shootings of 1970 when we return.
HOWARD BALLOU, Anchor: Well, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the shootings at this historically black campus of Jackson State University. Controversy still surrounds the incident where two were killed and a dozen more injured by members of the Jackson Police Department and the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
Now, authorities claimed they were responding to sniper fire, but students and administrators-- administrators it is, still say there was never any shooter other than the ones wearing badges.
BERT CASE, WLBT NEWS: [IN CLIP] Officers fired at Alexander Hall, a girls’ dormitory, continuously for just over 29 seconds. One died at the door of the dorm, another across the street. Some of the twelve injured came back to JSU for the memorial observance. There’s still a controversy about whether there was actually a sniper that night that touched off the shooting. Former Jackson State University president Dr. John Peoples says there was no sniper.
Dr. JOHN PEOPLES, FORMER JSU PRESIDENT: [IN CLIP] Absolutely not. It was a women’s dormitory. There was no sniper there at all.
CASE: [IN CLIP] James Lap Baker, a student at JSU at the time who now works for Hines County, was also an eyewitness and argues there was no sniper.
JAMES LAP BAKER: [IN CLIP] There wasn’t a sniper on the fifth floor. If there were a sniper, then they were trained officers; they should have been shooting at the fifth floor. They shot on both sides of the campus.
LEROY KETTER: [IN CLIP] I was shot right here.
CASE: [IN CLIP] Leroy Ketter, a 20-year-old student in 1970, was shot in the leg. He is now a Greenwood businessman, who operates Spooney’s Barbeque Restaurant.
KETTER: [IN CLIP] I got shot with a 30-30 – what you shoot deers and elephants with. If there was a sniper on the fifth floor, why was James Earl Green dead in the back.
CASE: [IN CLIP] You can still see the bullet holes in Alexander Hall on the campus of Jackson State University, where 460 shots were fired at that girls’ dormitory the morning of May 15, 1970. It’s the 40th anniversary coming up. Bert Case, WLBT News, Jackson State.
BALLOU: Panelist, I’ll start with Reverend Dean.
Reverend KENNETH DEAN, Former Director, Mississippi Human Relations Council: Well, I-- I was here not only for that shooting and was out here at the campus, but also just, you know, a year or two before that when Ben Brown had been shot. And-- and both of these situations were basically a student protest kind of atmosphere was going on. And you had police who were trained to shoot. And in the Ben Brown case they told them to shoot up in the air, and everybody did except one man. He took his rifle like that and shot, killed Ben, and it happened right in front of me, okay.
Now, this case here what they did is instead of having blockades like they did in the Brown case, the military and police, they swept through the campus down Lynch Street and strafed the buildings, it’s that simple.
And, I don’t know of anybody that was able to substantiate that there was a sniper. I think the first shots that were heard were the strafing of the buildings. And that’s what happened at Jackson State, and I would like to piggyback on that and say that one of the great changes that we ought to be able to clap our hands and be thankful for happened by that man that you saw in there, John People’s, because Jackson State was really a suppressed institution. Until Dr. People’s came on board and he began turning this thing around to where it became a more free, a more responsive, a more committed institution in terms of race relations.
This institution today, is another tool that’s been placed in our hands, and people have a great opportunity to come here and get an education. And I agree-- I agree with Mr. Meredith that the primary education of individual happens at home around the supper table. But, the other formal education is-- is another matter. So, the two of them should go together.
MAGGIE WADE, Anchor: Well right now, we’re going to hear from James Lap Baker, who was a student at the Jackson State during the shootings.
JAMES LAP BAKER: What happened at Jackson State was not just something that happened. First of all, I was there, ten yards away, and in my opinion, what happened on May 15th was intentional. It was planned. More students were to be-- to have been killed that night.
Now, generally, most people know about Kent State University and what happened on May 4th. I taught out here as an adjunct instructor for 25 years. My students, each class, never knew anything about May 15, 1970.
Now, I have a question here. What impact do you think that the May 15, 1970 shooting and killing, and in most cases I always called it a massacre, should have -- or have had -- on young blacks right now?
BALLOU: There you have it. Panelists?
ALBERT SYKES, Lead Organizer, The Young People’s Project: I think, uh, I think that what happened was once the blood from those young people spilled on the ground, that made this school hallowed ground. So that made it a-- a very, very iconic and historic place in, not just Mississippi but in America’s history. And so that incident-- that happened here should drive and motivate the people and the community that surrounds this school and the-- the-- the larger Mississippi community to-- to place more value into institutions like Jackson State.
We have a responsibility within our community to utilize and to-- to maximize the way that we build character in our communities and things that we’ve placed value on. And the opportunity to become the producers rather than the consumer.
So, one of the things that I can say for myself is that when I saw Medgar Evers’s picture, like, there’s one of the people in my life that I definitely know I owe. I grew up on Ridgeway Street, one block over from where Medgar Evers lived and died. And, so for me, it was less than a 3 minute journey to go around there and really be able to feel the place where this man died and the place where his kids layed on the floor and waited to see was daddy okay. And where his wife ran out to the yard and screamed.
And so when I look at that community, where I come from, I know we owe Medgar Evers more. We owe it to him to pick up the trash. We owe it to him to value the community. We owe to him to support Brinkley Middle School, Smith Elementary, Johnson Elementary, Lanier High School, all of these places that surround-- like that’s a area of greatness. That’s hallowed ground. And people from that area should understand what happened in that area. So monumental change came from Medgar Evers living one street over from my mom, and it resonated out across this whole this city and across the United Sates.
And so we definitely have to understand that in events like this not only go down in history but they-- they make places like this immortal, and we have to build the culture of supporting it and making Jackson Sate a successful institution based on the things and the sacrifices that have happened here.
BALLOU: All right. Mister Sykes, thank you so much. Thank you. Very good.
WADE: Straight ahead, an all-white Jackson, Mississippi television station becomes the first in the nation to lose its operating license. We’ll talk about it next.
MAGGIE WADE, Anchor: In 1971 the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, made a ruling that became a first in our nation's broadcasting history. They revoked the FCC license for WLBT, a, then, all-white local television station here in Jackson, Mississippi. The court claimed the NBC affiliate was not adequately serving its minority viewers, citing the station’s decision to omit all NBC network coverage of the Civil Rights Movement from its air.
HOWARD BALLOU, WLBT NEWS: [IN CLIP] Civil Rights and the events that brought them to light were a problem for this station in the 1960s. The United Church of Christ claimed that WLBT did not serve all its viewers, only the white ones.
BERT CASE, WLBT NEWS: [IN CLIP] These monitor’s brought here by the United Church of Christ and the Reverend Everett C. Parker documented this station’s broadcasts around the clock. And they were able to show that this station did not serve the minority community.
BALLOU: [IN CLIP] Lamar Life did make an effort to diversify once its practices were called into question. In 1969 they hired Nehemiah Flowers to work in the production department, the first minority in such a prominent position.
NEHEMIAH FLOWERS: [IN CLIP] Growing up in Mississippi, uh, you became acclimated to the way things were. Blacks traditionally were not on television.
CASE: [IN CLIP] I covered the hearing in 1967, which the FCC held here in Jackson to determine whether this license should be given back to the Lamar Life Insurance Company. And the Commission ruled after that hearing that it should be given back to them. It was an appeal of that decision to the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia that eventually resulted in the loss of the license in June of 1971.
MAGGIE WADE, WLBT NEWS: [IN CLIP] With that, WLBT became the first station in history to lose its license for not adequately serving its audience. For nine years WLBT operated as a non-profit entity under a bi-racial group that brought in a black general manager, William Dilday.
CASE: [IN CLIP] They did a very good job of making that transition from it being an all-white television station to one that was inclusive of minorities.
WADE: Let's begin with a student in our audience.
JOY POWELL: Hello, I’m Joy Powell, and I'm a student at Mississippi State University. As a broadcasting major, in my opinion, WLBT leads the way in meeting the expectations of its viewership in terms of the diversity of its newsroom. How do you see the development of diversity in our media affecting the continued success of the movement?
WADE: Mr. Dean, would you like to start?
Reverend KENNETH DEAN, Former Director, Mississippi Human Relations Council: Well, yes, I’d like to say something. When we at WLBT had to let our general manager go because he wouldn't cooperate with us on diversity, we also had a policy that we wouldn’t hire any more whites until we reached parity with the racial distribution in our service area. So, when I let the general manager go I had to hire a black general manager, follow my own regulations, okay?
Well, in the meantime, I got called by NBC to come to Rockefeller Center in New York City for a conversation. I spent an hour and a half with NBC telling me that they had gotten wind that I was thinking about hiring a black general manager and that I must not do that. And they lectured me for over an hour about not hiring a black general manager for this station. The South wasn't ready fort it. It's in Jackson, Mississippi. You can't do it; you’re an interim operator; you’re not television professionals; you don’t know what you're doing. And I felt like a fool because I'd already hired him two weeks earlier.
I just want you to know that whatever else you want to say about race, that on that issue, it was a local group of black and white people, men and women, most of them from the church and the Jewish community, that decided to put a black general manager for the first time in the history of the industry in charge of a network station in Jackson, Mississippi; and it was the most successful thing we ever did. And it didn’t happen because the network or anybody else outside of Mississippi told us to do it. It was Mississippi owned; it was Mississippi made, and it was Mississippi bred, and it was Mississippi successful.
BALLOU: Let’s take our next questioner. Thank you, Reverend Dean. Our last question.
ANDREW: Hello, my name is Andrew (unintelligible) here at Jackson State University. I’m a sophomore Mass Communications major. My question is to all the panel, how do you envision the future of race relations based on our past civil rights history?
WADE: Jerry, would you like to begin?
JERRY MITCHELL, Investigative Journalist, The Clarion Ledger: I’ll start. I hope Dr. Perkins’ll weigh in on this, too. I mean, I think it’s very important. Obviously, hopefully we work toward reconciliation. I mean, that’s really what it’s all about – is beginning to work together. And that’s what has to happen. And it doesn’t happen without a dedicated effort. And I know Dr. Perkins, that’s been – your life’s work. So feel free to chime in about it.
Dr. JOHN M. PERKINS, Founder, John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development: It’s gonna be more difficult in the days ahead, because the children who are being born in an environment of none racism is not automatically racist as they was before. But there’s not many white people in the black school and there’s not many black people in the white schools in Jackson.
If racism comes from prejudice we got to not prejudge people and get together with them and love them. It’s a very difficult deal and the institution that is ordained to do that, commissioned to do that by Jesus who said, “By this may all mankind know you’re my disciples, because of your love one for another,” we still have a black church and a white church.
Mr. MITCHELL: I know for whites, you know, that I hear—that talk to me about race and racism and stuff like that, some of it’s fear, you know that? Some of it’s actually fear. And so it’s a matter of breaking down those kind of barriers as well.
HOWARD BALLOU, Anchor: Thank you very much. We certainly want to thank our panelists, and you in the audience, for your involvement in this program. Also, a very special thanks to NBC, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Hamer Institute.
WADE: And for more historical clips on the civil rights movement, log on to NBC Learn.com.
BALLOU: Thank you very much.
Civil Rights Movement, Jackson, Mississippi, Jackson State University, WLBT, Maggie Wade, Howard Ballou, Kenneth Dean, Jerry Mitchell, Albert Sykes, John M. Perkins, James Meredith, Town Hall, African Americans, Education, Activism, Equality, Integration, Race, Voter Registration, Civil Rights, Activists, Ku Klux Klan, Edgar Ray Killen, Cold Case, Jury, Communication, Dave Dennis, University of Mississippi, Riots, Church, Segregation, Medgar Evers, Byron De La Beckwith, Trial, Myrlie Evers, Racism, Freedom Summer, Justice Department, Demonstrations, Ben Brown, Student Protest, John Peoples, James Lap Baker, Kent State, Broadcasting, FCC, Bert Case, U.S. Court of Appeals, Diversity,
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