Daily Archives: January 12, 2009

Emmett Till

By: Jade Ashlee Atkins

When you’re little and you first hear the Emmett Till story, all you can really think is, ‘how sad.’

It isn’t until you are older and understand the torture the boy went through and how those evil men mutilated his body, that you can truly feel deeply saddened. Being at the actual site, where Till had once stood and whistled to a Carolyn Bryant, i couldn’t even speak.

I remember being angry, that we couldn’t go inside the store, which you would never know was once a store due to the fact it looked like a pile of crap.

I so badly wanted to just kick the door in and see a distorted image of what they saw.  I hated that it hadn’t been turned into a historical site, or renovated.  What I hated even more was that I was terrified to run around the building. It was super dark and even if I hadn’t been scared, unless we had shined a huge light on the building there was no way i could have seen anything.

I wanted to go and see every single stop the men made the night they murdered Till.  I wanted to see where they lived, what the cotton-gin looked like, what Mose’s house looked like.  As a journalist it is natural to always want more, and this was one of the those times i wanted everything.

The more i thinkg about it, the more i want to go and meet Mrs. Bryant, who by the way has been married four times.  I knew she was a terrible person, not that people who get divorced are terrible, but FOUR times. Four?  People really can not get along with this woman and sadly she crossed paths with Emmett Till, who again did not get along with her.

Justin Allegri and myself decided that she wasn’t even really all too pretty in the first place.  Oh, and the fact that she has only done one interview ever about the topic, she knows she did something wrong.  She’s dirty.

A truck pulled up to me while we were at the Courthouse where the trial for Emmett Till took place.  I was alone because I wanted to get the Delta Inn, or what was left of it, when it was quiet.  And by the way, anyone who thinks silence is golden has never been black and alone in rural Mississippi.  Anyway, the truck pulled up along side the right of me with two white men inside, it was like a scene out of a movie because both men were staring as if they had never seen a camera before.  The driver asked, “What you got that dang big ol’ camera for?” I answered that I was part of a group, and when i when to point to where the rest of the group was, there was no one there, they had all literally disappeared. Nonetheless, I continued by saying that the van over there is how all the students got here.  While those men scared me to death, I couldn’t smile as the drove away.  They were just simple people. By the time i realized the group was inside the building, I was nearly frozen to death.  It took me a good 5 minutes to figure out that the first floor was not where the group was. Needless to say, i seriously felt like i was in a crazy horror movie.

More later, becasue Dr. Cheers is rushing us out of this building.  For reals this time.

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Day Three, First Half by Dovedot-Jackson, Mississippi

We woke up at the crack of sunlight today in Jackson, Mississippi to a fine breakfast again (my preferred cereal Honey Nut Cheerios) with Mr. Justin Allegri again as he ate his toast and yogurt. Our bodies weren’t yet adjusted to the two hour time difference (San Jose, you are getting two extra hours of sleep compared to us over here) so the conversation was a little slow but we ate and moved quick to be out of the hotel for our departure time of 8:15 a.m. to our first interview of the day, Jerry Mitchell.

Jerry Mitchell

Jerry Mitchell. Photo Credit: Nick Dovedot


Jerry Mitchell

Jerry Mitchell. Photo Credit: Nick Dovedot

He is the Investigative Reporter at The Clarion-Ledger, a statewide newspaper in Mississippi. His reputation is known as “a pain in the ass,” for Mitchell uncovers the truth behind those he investigates. Members of the Ku Klux Klan have been convicted in courts thanks to the information he was able to discover and unveil for the prosecution. In particular, some of the names that he provided incriminating evidence for their prosecution and imprisonment, are Sam Bowers (Imperial Grand Wizard of the KKK), Byron de la Beckwith (shooting of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers), and Bobby Frank Cherry (KKK member who had role in the Birmingham bombing). The one that stood out the most to me (that I excluded in the previous paragraph) was Edgar Ray Killen. Not perhaps because of what he did but something else. It seemed a tad ironic to me that he organized the kidnapping and murdering of the three civil rights workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner) and his last name is pronounced ‘killin’.’ To me, I don’t see Mitchell as “a pain in the ass” but rather as a truth-bearer and good person. He represents morality and fine-tuned journalism. Now I find myself and everyone in the group writing newscasts, uploading, downloading, sending pictures and videos, recording broadcasts, voiceovers, sound-on-tape, sound bites, blogging, and putting together packages and information for KTVU, Good Morning America, USA Today, and CNN underneath two escalators in a local mall in Downtown Jackson, not more than three blocks away and two hours after our brilliant interview with Jerry Mitchell. Our coordinator Dr. Cheers is seen here, reuniting with his friend, Ronnie Agnew, the Executive Editor at The Clarion-Ledger.

Dr. Cheers with Ronnie Agnew, Executive Editor of The Clarion-Ledger

Dr. Cheers with Ronnie Agnew, Executive Editor of The Clarion-Ledger. Photo Credit: Nick Dovedot

Night and morning.

Nick

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Reflecting on the Past at the National Civil Rights Museum

The Lorraine Hotel/National Museum of Civil Rights in Memphis, TN.

The Lorraine Hotel/National Museum of Civil Rights in Memphis, TN.

History is all around us. When it comes to the civil rights movement, some things may be more within reach for some than others. Americans in the southern states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, to name a few, have civil rights history readily available to them than many western states. While south has their history, western states have more of an advantage when it comes to much the earlier American history of Spanish colonialism and the Gold Rush, amongst other things.

At the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN, our group, consisting of Californian natives, had a chance to see something that many people around the world would like to experience.

Our tour started out with the exact location where civil rights leader, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. As we approached the Lorraine Hotel, we stood in front of the famous room 306. Feelings of sadness and pride instantly filled the air. Emotion is common when you see a piece of history like that.

A young Colorado couple stood in front of the historical sight and expressed their detachment from history, “Our environment doesn’t reflect these [type of] events. Colorado didn’t have to deal with those things. I’m glad I’m getting the opportunity to experience it.”

When walking into the museum we instantly saw a mountainous stone, with beautifully and carefully carved human figures climbing, symbolizing the gradual struggle for African Americans in America. When we began the tour, there was an exhibit dedicated to figures within popular culture of the time, like The Beatles, and their expression of Dr. Kings’ efforts within the civil rights movement. More interestingly, the exhibit included former United States president, Lyndon Johnson and his passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The museum is designed as if you were walking through a physical timeline. Beginning with the enslavement of millions of Africans to slave rebellions profiling the infamous Nathaniel Turner, who lead the largest slave rebellion in history by killing over 50 whites; to the escape of many slaves by honoring the very brave Harriet Tubman, who showed courage by leading over 300 slaves become free; to the birth of the African feminist movement by profiling Sojourner Truth who delivered the famous, “Ain’t I A Woman” speech; to the education of African slaves by presenting well-known abolitionist and one of the best orators of the time, Fredrick Douglas, and concluding the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

In the next room, we began to see history after the freeing of the slaves. It was amazing to see the change in attitudes during that time. Many blacks during that time were left with no money or resources, and as a result sought education. On the other end of the spectrum, the KKK was founded, with its sole purpose being to “keep blacks in their place”. As you continued your walk, you noticed a very violent section. Soon after, you noticed that there was a birth of Black Nationalism. Marcus Garvey was especially important to that particular movement because he felt that all blacks should embrace their African roots and go back to the birthplace of civilization. As a result, the NOI, Nation of Islam, sprouted out of Detroit, MI and provoked a new consciousness within the black community. Immediately after, you notice that there was a growth of black organizations including CORE, Congress for Racial Equality, the National Urban League, and the SCLC, Southern Christian Leadership Conference whose goals were to fight for equal rights for blacks.

The road to progression for blacks during that time, took a turn for the worst. There were the murders of civil rights leader, Medgar Evers in 1963, and CORE members James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner in 1964. The slayings played such a significant role in that it pushed blacks further to the edge. That “boiling point” sparked not just organization, but physical action against injustice. Through pictures, quotes and brief descriptions to compliment, the museum went on to profile several protests, marches, sit-ins, and speeches, then concluding in the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

His legacy has inspired millions around the globe and his spirit has kept hope in the hearts of people. We have been accepted as not half a human, but a complete human. A human that can think, be successful and content in America. In the 1980s, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who worked closely with Dr. King fought for us to get the title of African-American since we have done quite a service for this country. Amongst others, President-elect, Barack H. Obama has been passed the torch, the God-given vision of hope that we will one day overcome the very injustice that would have prevented him from being where he is today. Indeed, we still have a long way to go. However, the result of countless civil rights workers, my ancestors, has allowed me, you, the world to be connected. Ashe’.

Angela front of the Lorraine Hotel, where Dr. King was assassinated.

Angela front of the Lorraine Hotel, where Dr. King was assassinated.

Peace and Blessings,

Angela A. Hughes

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The Reverend

By: Jade Ashlee Atkins

The man sat with his legs gracefully crossed, his hands lying gently on his lap.  He looked comfortable in his khaki pants and navy blue sweater, which looked as if they had just come from the cleaners.
His face, weathered with wisdom and tranquility, looked peaceful as if he didn’t even notice the nine cameras taking his picture or the three video cameras recording his every move.
Without hesitation the man, whom everyone seemed in awe over, began to speak.  The room grew quiet.
The man spoke softly, in a calm and comforting tone, with the slightest hint on a southern gentlemen’s accent.
He spoke to the crowd of thirteen, consisting of ten undergrad students from San Jose State University, one graduate of SJSU, one professor, and one fire fighter.
The man, Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles, is the last living person to have stood on the balcony with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that fateful evening in Memphis.
“I remember turning to walk down the steps, I thought goodness gracious you guys lets get going, and as I turned I heard the loudest KA-POW, and the blast and knocked Martin, to the ground.”
He explained that the famous photograph where Dr. King is lying on the balcony in the pool of his own blood, is where he and the other gentlemen, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, were pointing to show the police where the shot had come from.
The cigarette pack and bloodstained handkerchief Dr. King had in his pocket the day of his assassination, is now in Kyles possession. He said he took it “Because Dr. King didn’t really like the youth to see him smoking.”  He said “They’re somewhere at my house.”
He told the story of how the operator who happened to be the owner of the Motels wife, came outside and had a heart-attack from the shock of what she saw.  “She died three days later.”
Rev. Kyles whose face still had the same look of wisdom and peace, went on to say that when they got the call that Dr. King did not survive the gun-shot, “they did not say he died, they simply said ‘we lost him’ ”
Panning the room, not a dry eye was in sight.
As his story went on, he drifted in and out of the civil rights era, comparing the election of today, with the movements of the past.
He answered each and every question the students had for him.  They clung to his every word, scribbling fiercely with pens and notepads given to them by the hotel.
The room, which was dimly lit, only added to warmth radiating off of Rev. Kyles, who seemed fully at home with each of the persons in the room.
The man with the navy blue sweater and khaki pants got up to leave and was bombarded by eager students who yearned for just one photograph and maybe a hug or two.
He left, the same way he came, graceful and cheery, wishing the students well and good-luck on their trip.
The last thing he said to a student was said in the same kind and gentle tone as before. He said, “Remember, you are your own biggest fan.  Give yourself something to be proud of.”
And with that the man was gone.

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The Legendary South Jackson, MS

It’s not a vacation! We are hard at work here in Jackson, Mississippi. We are on deadline for many local and national news stations. We are working off a wireless network in a Downtown Jackson business building where there is a small coffee shop and sitting area and one power outlet for all our equipment. Some of us are sitting on the floors in next to the power outlet; others are running around gathering photos and sound bites to send off in a package. The tension is high, expectations are fierce and deadlines are approaching.
Bringing the news from the Regions Plaza in Jackson, Mississippi this is Bianca deCastro, writer for the Spartan Daily.

Diana Diroy working on deadline at the Regions Plaza in Jackson, MS.

Diana Diroy working on deadline at the Regions Plaza in Jackson, MS.

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Jerry Mitchell and Reflection on Evers & Jackson, Mississippi

ByKachet Jackson-Henderson

We just left our meeting at The Clarion-Ledger with Jerry Mitchell. For those who do not know, Mitchell is an investigative reporter for the paper, and has aided in the conviction of those involved in many KKK organized murders, including the assassination of Medgar Evers. I was very impressed by him. He came to greet us after we had all gathered in the lobby of the Ledger and just by the way he walked down the stairs, I immediately knew that this was going to be an interesting meeting. Mitchell is not a big man; He’s about my height (I’m 5’9″), and fairly thin.  He walked to us with such a relaxed, but confident demeanor. Once we all sat down, the information just began to pour out of him. He shared many stories of different trials, and the great lengths he went through in order to get the information, even going to dinner at a barbeque restaurant with a Klansman because he “guessed that’s what Klansmen eat.”

I went going to meet Mitchell, praying that he would touch on Byron De La Beckwith, the man that murdered Medgar Evers. I remember going to the movie theater to see Ghosts of Mississippi at nine years old and how upset I was afterward. I was glad that Mitchell cleaned up and elaborated on some details that were depicted in the movie. Mitchell shared that in October 1989 he ran a story exploiting the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission (headed by the state’s governor), and the fact that they had assisted the defense for an aquittal of Beckwith. Mitchell said that Beckwith was more racist than what the movie showed! I cannot even imagine.

In the movie, Beckwith (played by James Woods) said to DeLaughter in the bathroom that he would never shoot a deer, because it was a beautiful creature, but that “a nigger, well, that’s another story entirely,” or something to that effect and I didn’t think it could get much worse than that. It hurt me very much. Mitchell also said that Myrlie Evers-Williams (Medgar’s wife) gave him the trial transcript, not Bobby DeLaughter like shown in the movie. But, he did say that DeLaughter did indeed find the murder weapon at his father-in-law’s home.

“I just catch ’em, I don’t fry ’em!” That is a quote stolen from a colleague that Mitchell says describes his role in the cases.

Mitchell is a very brave soul. I don’t know if I could do such investigative reporting. Ha! I know I couldn’t. I am a black woman and those Klansman would terrorize the hell out of me. But it is very admirable to see someone who “missed the Civil Rights Movement,” become so immersed in finding information to get justice for those who lost their lives, and for the families who have had to deal with the aftermath for years.  Although I hate to admit it, maybe I was so impressed because he is white. My California and my black woman mentality has made me think that the majority of white Southerners are racist. But, that’s just what i’ve seen on television. He does not consider himself the hero, but the deceased and their families. Mitchell said, “If someone killed my Daddy, I’d be bitter…and they’re not.” I lost my mother due to leukemia, and I was bitter for years. I wish that I would have had even half the strength that they had.  I would love to meet the family of Evers one day, and of others that lives were lost. I would just hug them. I would hold them close.

We are headed to Philadelphia, MS in about an hour. This is the town that James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner were killed in during Freedom Summer in 1964. Mitchell was gracious enough to give a couple of his contacts in the town. I am so disappointed that we will not be able to visit the home of Evers. I feel he was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement and that we should pay him homage. But, we are on a tight schedule in a tight and cramped van!  I will have to take it upon myself  to come back down to Jackson, if it’s only to go visit that one spot.

-Kachet

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The First Two Days: Memphis to Mississippi

By: Jenise Erwin

Hello Readers!!

Being the last addition to the group it was definitely fate that lead me to become a part of this extraordinary experience. I am deeply honored and forever grateful to the point that words can’t even begin to express the joy I felt when Dr. Cheers notified me that I would be joining the other nine students in this quest through such a monumental period in history. Having a multiracial background has provided me the opportunity to embrace so many cultures, but never have I been given the privilege to step foot on the exact same grounds in which my ancestors made history and lives of African Americans all across America were ultimately changed.

Let me begin by reflecting on day one of our journey which took place on Saturday, January 10th in Memphis, Tennessee. Immediately after arriving at our hotel we were given the opportunity to interview with Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, who witnessed the shot that killed Martin Luther King Jr, and covered his body with a white sheet to shield him from the public. As if it was yesterday, at age 74, Rev. Kyles still vividly remembers this tragedy that occurred on April 4, 1968. Unable to keep my composure any longer, my eyes began to swell up with tears as Rev. Kyles so eloquently described each detail of his experience, including Dr. King’s last sermon known as the “Mountaintop” speech, which ultimately propheticized his fate. According to Kyles, Dr. King specifically says in the sermon that, “I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.”

 

 I can’t even imagine how Dr. King felt knowing that he wouldn’t live to witness the dream he fought so diligently to achieve. Given the spiritual insight of knowing that your death is soon to come, how does one even prepare for such a time?

 

 In conclusion, Rev. Kyles left some words of advice for our youth today, which really struck a nerve with me. He mentions that the dream has yet to be achieved and there is still plenty of work to be done, and it’s up to future generations to take full advantage of the opportunities set before us as we are going to be the leaders of the world. He later makes the statement, “Each generation must find their niche and keep the dream alive.”

This experience with Rev. Kyles was astounding and it was an absolute honor to be in the presence of a man who remains the only living person that actually spent the last hour of Dr. King’s life with him. An honor so great, that from the moment he walked through the doors of our hotel, I had to pause and take a deep breath as I was overcome with absolute speechlessness.  

 

                             

 

Group photo with Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles after our interview. By Jenise Erwin

Group photo with Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles after our interview. By Jenise Erwin

 

After the interview, we concluded the evening on Beale Street, and I devoured catfish, hush puppies, and french fries, as I grooved to the beats of classic blues and rock and roll played by a live band. I must say that was about the best catfish I’ve ever tasted!!

 

 

BB King's Blues Club on Beale Street in downtown Memphis. By Jenise Erwin

BB King's Blues Club on Beale Street in downtown Memphis. By Jenise Erwin

 

Catfish, Hush Puppies & French Fries at BB King's. Best catfish EVER!! By Jenise Erwin

Catfish, Hush Puppies & French Fries at BB King's. Best catfish EVER!! By Jenise Erwin

 

Blues City Cafe on Beale Street. By Jenise Erwin

Blues City Cafe on Beale Street. By Jenise Erwin

Day two began with a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum at the site of the Loraine Motel. Eager to step forth in the building I was unpleasantly surprised to notice an African American woman protesting on the corner across from the museum. I wasn’t sure if I was more angered by her refusal to comment on her reasoning for protesting against the museum or if I felt more pity for what appeared to be complete ignorance on her part as far as what the museum embodies. Despite her negative attitude, my experience at the museum was quite intense yet liberating. Walking through this historical timeline of such struggle, hurt and pain, touched a very sensitive spot in my heart but was exactly what I needed to humble me in such a profound way.

 As a senior at San Jose State I feel I’ve came such a long way over the last few years, and I’ve struggled to overcome several challenges and obstacles both in my academics and in my personal life. Reflecting on the things that at one point caused me undying stress and turmoil, and seemed almost unbearable, I now realize are extremely trivial and completely insignificant in comparison to the adversity African Americans endured during the civil rights movement. Many people shed blood, lost their lives, and endured constant pain and suffering, in order to have the right to vote, and being that I’m 23 years old, I didn’t even exercise my right to vote until this year’s election.  It’s only day two but this experience thus far has allowed me to appreciate life in so many more ways and really want to embrace every single opportunity I’m faced with, with a more open mind and positive attitude.

Jacqueline Smith has been protesting the National Civil Rights Museum for 20 yrs and 316 days. By Jenise Erwin

Jacqueline Smith has been protesting the National Civil Rights Museum for 20 yrs and 316 days. By Jenise Erwin

Lorraine Motel is now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum. By Jenise Erwin

Lorraine Motel is now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum. By Jenise Erwin

 

Side shot of balcony of Lorranine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. By Jenise Erwin

Side shot of balcony of Lorranine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. By Jenise Erwin

Upclose shot of Room 306, the room where Martin Luther King Jr. spent his final hour with Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Samuel Kyles. By Jenise Erwin

Upclose shot of Room 306, the room where Martin Luther King Jr. spent his final hour with Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Samuel Kyles. By Jenise Erwin

After the museum, we headed on the road to drive the stretch from Memphis to Mississippi. Upon arrival in Tutwiler, our first stop was the funeral home of which EmmettTill’s body was prepared before it was shipped back to his mother back in Chicago. After the funeral home, we drove alongside the Tallahatchie River where Till’s body was discovered, and followed the highway onto Sumner where we stopped to tour the courthouse that held the 5-day trial that acquitted both Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the murder of Emmett Till. Jerome Little, the President of the Tallahatchie Board of Supervisors, was kind enough to guide us throughout the court house and provide us with background info on the case. Little also informed us of future plans that are in progress to restore the courthouse back to the original appearance of what it looked like in 1955. I was pleased to discover that the courthouse will not only remain as a working courthouse but also a museum.

To conclude the Emmett Till experience we visited the grocery store where Emmett Till allegedly whistled at a white woman.  During this whole experience I could not help but think that our last four stops all revolved around the brutal murder of a 14 year- old boy who was simply in town visiting his uncle. Although I’m hesitant to mention the word fate, ultimately it was fate that caused the occurrence of such a tragic and unforgettable event in history. According to Jerome Little, Emmett Till was not kidnapped from his uncle’s home until 4 days after the incident with the woman in the grocery store, and during those days in between, Emmett had requested that his cousins who had accompanied him, never mention a word about the incident at the store to his uncle. According to Little, had Till’s cousins said something, Till’s uncle may have sent him back to Chicago immediately, out of fear for Till’s life, and possibly his life may have been spared. With that being said, fate was partly responsible for Emmett Till’s death, and sadly enough, because of it, international coverage was received, and America was finally awakened by the evils of this time and the civil rights movement accelerated.

Tutwiler Funeral Home where Emmett Till's body was prepared before it was shipped back to his mother in Chicago. By Jenise Erwin

Tutwiler Funeral Home where Emmett Till's body was prepared before it was shipped back to his mother in Chicago. By Jenise Erwin

The courthouse in Sumner that held the 5-day trial that acquitted both Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the murder of Emmett Till. By Jenise Erwin

The courthouse in Sumner that held the 5-day trial that acquitted both Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the murder of Emmett Till. By Jenise Erwin

The grocery store in Money, Mississippi where Emmett Till allegedly whistled at a white woman. By Jenise Erwin

The grocery store in Money, Mississippi where Emmett Till allegedly whistled at a white woman. By Jenise Erwin

Signing off,

Jenise Erwin

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