Meridian Star

Columns

September 30, 2012

Local history is U.S. history

MERIDIAN — It was 50 years ago today that two people lost their lives on The University of Mississippi campus in Oxford.

    The rioting erupted over integration.

    The body of Ray Gunter, 23, a nearby resident who came to observe the mayhem, was found dead with a bullet to the head.

    The body of Paul Guihard, 30, a French journalist, was found with a gunshot wound to the back.

    We may never know who killed them.

    According to the Newseum in Washington D.C., where Guihard is among the 2,156 journalists included on The Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial, in his last story he wrote about "the most serious constitutional crisis ever experienced by the United States since the war of secession," adding that "the Civil War never ended."

    On Friday the Mississippi Development Authority's Tourism Division unveiled a new marker on the Mississippi Freedom Trail at Ole Miss to commemorate the desegregation of the school with James Meredith's enrollment.

    Other freedom trail locations where markers have been unveiled include:

    • Bryant's Grocery (Money) — Where 14-year-old Emmett Till whistled at a white woman in 1955 and was murdered days later.

    • Medgar Evers Home (Jackson) — Evers was the first field secretary for the NAACP in Jackson when he was shot and killed outside of his home on June 12, 1963.

    • Greyhound Bus Station (Jackson) — Where some of the Freedom Riders arrived in Jackson in 1961. That summer 329 people were arrested in Jackson for integrating public transportation facilities.

    • Jackson State Tragedy (Jackson)— At Jackson State College on May 15, 1970, Jackson police and Mississippi Highway Patrol officers suppressed student unrest with intense gunfire. Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green were killed there.

    • Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman) — Where some Freedom Riders were incarcerated and harshly treated in 1961.

    Those first five markers were funded from Tougaloo College, MDA, and local and private contributions, according to MDA.

    The other 25 of the initial 30 markers identified for the trail are being funded through community funds and the 2010 Civil Rights Historic Sites Grant Program passed by the Legislature and administered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. There was $2.1 million put into the program, with a limit of $210,000 to be awarded to a single project. A match of not less than 20 percent is required as well.

    No, there are no Meridian or Lauderdale County locations on that list. Yes, we have many locations here that would qualify as points of interest on the Mississippi Freedom Trail, most notably those associated with the summer of 1964, when James Chaney, 21, of Meridian, Michael Schwerner, 24, and Andrew Goodman, 20, both of New York, were killed while working to help register voters.

    I'm proud Mayor Cheri Barry announced last year that she is dedicated to establishing Freedom Park here to honor those who fought in the civil rights movement. Plans are in place to locate the park along 25th Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets, and possibly to even create a museum near the park.

    Hopefully a solid effort is (or will get) behind this. I hope we'll all be dedicated to securing local money to match other grants that may become available through another Civil Rights Historic Sites Grant Program, but that will also require pestering our Legislature to make that happen with more funding.

    These first Mississippi Freedom Trail Markers are just a few of several hundred potential sites that have been identified in the state. Commemorating these people and places is important because it is our history — not just Meridian, or Mississippi history — everybody's history in the United States.

    It also is important to our economic development. There is nothing sadder, or more depressing than to see a place full of history that doesn't acknowledge it.

    Those places aren't very desirable to others, either.

    Steve Gillespie is managing editor of The Meridian Star.

E-mail him at sgillespie@themeridianstar.com.

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