Daily Archives: January 12, 2009
By Kachet Jackson-Henderson
There is so much to say, and thankfully there is enough room to say it! I first want to thank both Dr. Cheers and Professor Rucker for choosing me to be apart of this trip. Although this was only Day 2 of this nearly two week long journey, I have already become incredibly humbled by this experience and I eagerly anticipate the days to come!
Upon getting to the airport on Saturday morning, I was kind of nervous. Not because I didn’t think I was capable of executing the duties which I have been chosen, but because I wasn’t sure how open people were going to be, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to pry them open on such sensitive subjects. In the past 24 hours I have found the exact opposite. I feel incredibly honored to have been in the presence of Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles. This sounds generic, but he was so cool! I was waiting in the lobby with Angela and Nick for him to arrive, and he strolled in with a newsboy cap and leather bomber and a smile painted on his face. I immediately went to greet him and extended my hand out for him to shake, and a few seconds later, after taking a look at my face and saying hello, he put his hand in mine.
Once we were ready to go, Kyles just began talking. No questions asked. I was glad that he felt so comfortable with us, and I also felt in my heart that once people knew what we were trying to do, that the words and emotions would indeed, flow. Despite being up in age, Rev. Kyles has a pretty young appearance and seems to be in good health. Before we were even thinking about touching on age, he said “It was the Civil Rights Movement I was in, not the Civil War.”
Kyles shared many things with us, including his feelings on election night, his feelings on Martin (that’s how he referred to him as), today’s youth and the future of our nation. He was very jubilant on Election night, and said he couldn’t believe it was happening, that it was unreal. I am 21 years old and I felt the same way. He said he knew it would happen, but that he didn’t think he’d be here to see it. I immediately thought of my grandmother and all of the talks we had up to November 4, and at 84 years old she didn’t think so either!
Although everything he said had great significance to me, I was astonished by everything he had to say about Dr. King and his death. He went into detail about his last memories of King, including a description of the night of the famous “Mountaintop” speech. Kyles said that King talked mostly about death and that he felt that King “preached himself through the fear of death.” Honestly, I cannot imagine being there for that, and I personally do not know anyone who is capable of such heroism. He described his last moments with King as a bunch of preachers having “preacher talk” which was described as “whatever preachers talk about at the time.” We all giggled. As he went on further, my heart skipped a beat as Kyles decribed the gunshot as “KA-POWWW,” and the gruesome aftermath of the fatal shot that silenced one of the most influential people to ever walk this earth. The tears would not stop streaming down my face as Kyles said he had often contemplated why he was there at that moment, and that God revealed that to him over time. “Crucifixions have to have witnesses.” After many pictures and an autograph, we all went to Downtown Memphis for some grub.
After a fun dinner at B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale Street, we woke up the next morning and headed to the National Civil Rights Museum. I got many shots of the Lorraine Motel and I opted to take some in Black & White, for that antique effect. I was unaware that there was a woman outside that protests the museum, with a banner that reads “Stop worshipping the past. Start living the dream.” She was very reluctant to speak with us, and I was a little disappointed because I feel that if you are protesting something, you should be fully ready and able to explain your reasoning behind it. She may be one of the biggest hypocrites I will encounter on the trip!
After the museum, we headed down a long stretch of highway on our way to Tutwiler, Mississippi and after getting lost twice around one of the junctions, we finally met a man that drove us around various spots in the Delta significant to the Emmett Till case. We first stopped by the funeral home in where Till’s body arrived after being found in the Tallahatchie River and then to the courthouse in Sumner where his killers were tried for his murder. The difference between the two towns is remarkable. Sumner is 95% White, where Tutwiler is predominately Black. Tutwiler looks like a ghost town… or a small impoverished country. Dilapadaded buildings and children with raggedy clothes and shoes. I’ve heard that in some towns in America people actually live like this, but REALLY? People live like this in America? Yes, they do. But the question is, do they thrive?
Sumner is small, and I expected the people driving by to be especially nosey and maybe a little unfriendly. But as I walked across the street to snap some pictures, a lady drove by in her van, smiled and waved! What I noticed about both towns was how quiet they were. Small, quiet, and slow-paced. From Sumner we drove to more spots along the Till trail including the river site where his body was found and a marker for a gentleman that had been killed shortly after Till by a friend of one of the murderers. To conclude the journey down the many bumpy and dark back roads of the Mississippi Delta, we arrived at the grocery store where Till had alledgedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant in Money, Mississippi. It was dark when we arrived, and it was very, very eerie. I did not like being there, so I took a few pictures, and got my butt back in the van. Maybe it was just my paranoia, but as we were all on the side of the road snapping pictures, some drivers slowed down. And hey, maybe it was just because we were a large group of people with cameras, but I didn’t feel it was just that.
The stretch to Jackson wasn’t long, but it felt like forever. I was so hungry and tired so I took a nap until about 10 mile out of the city. After a nice dinner, we returned back to the hotel to get settled and prepared for Day 3. Now, it’s super late and I have so many thoughts and images going through my head right now, I can’t seem to shut off my brain. But I must try; We depart in a little over four hours. But, that is all for now! I’m looking forward to our Manic Monday and our first interview of the day: Jerry Mitchell. Stay Tuned folks!
Peace and Love,
The Legendary South – Memphis, TN – Bianca deCastro
We left home during breakfast time and arrived here in Memphis at dinner time. But there was no dinner for this team of students, at least not yet. Pressed for time we quickly set up the conference room at the Courtyard Marriott Memphis Airport which was graciously donated for our use.
Our first interview of the journey signified how important and immense the opportunities we have at hand actually are. Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles, the last living man to have been on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot, became my first challenge of the trip.
I say challenge because it is a challenge keeping steady composure in the presence of living history. What I mean by that is you read about history all your life throughout your years of schooling and education and very rarely does one have the opportunity to direct questions to the ones who have actually lived through it.
My mind raced everywhere and I felt nervous, unable to center my thoughts to one group of questions that would in sequential order make sense. I wanted to ask a million questions, in any order which made no difference to me.
I began to fluster about as I was called into the room where the bright spotlight shone and Rev. Kyles awaited in one chair while the other was empty for me. I walked toward the room and quickly diverted to a small outlet in the hallway, where I called out to the anxious group of students “Gimmie a minute, I need to pray!”
I joined hands with our San Jose Firefighter, Anthony, who asked god to give me strength and we thanked him for the opportunities we were given.
As I walked back to the room and sat in that seat next to Rev. Kyles I remembered that I am not only here for myself and this is not only an opportunity for me but it is a chance for me to tell and share a story, a story that needs to be told.
Rev. Kyles has a presence like none other I’ve experienced. At the age of 74, he remembers and tells the story like it was yesterday. Of all the interviews I’ve watched on television and all the articles I’ve read, his answers never strayed, not on one detail.
I began the interview asking questions about the past and gradually began to slowly ease President-elect Obama into the picture by asking questions such as how Dr. King would have reacted to the election.
I look forward to meeting with more people, who like Rev. Kyles, have great strength to share such difficult memories from such trying times, all on hope that it will educate people of the truth.
The National Civil Rights Museum was a short stop on the way out of town. It was a collective look at the struggles and forthcomings that have been brought about through the civil rights movements.
Today Carolyn Payne, the sister of Larry Payne was kind enough to meet and speak with us at the National Civil Rights Museum.
The baby son of eight children, Larry Payne, was 15 and his sister, Carolyn 13 when he was killed by police, in what police say was a looting and knife wielding incident.
Carolyn Payne described what she had heard and how the events had hurt her and her family and continue to cause grief since the case has never been properly addressed. “I just want closure,” she said.
The policemen involved in the killing were never charged and the man who shot Payne remains free today.
Carolyn Payne said that the case was closed, and then reopened and remains that way with her not knowing anything more.
I imagine that there are many more cases like the Paynes, hundreds, if not more cases of unsolved crimes and killings that have been forgotten by the rest of the world but remain vivid yesterdays to the victim’s families and friends.
Hearing Carolyn Payne speak reminded me that remembering and learning civil rights history is more than knowing about Dr. King. She also reminded me that the injustices of the past aren’t as far gone as many people think that they are. After all, it was just a few years back that the civil rights workers (Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner) who were murdered in Mississippi finally got justice in the case of Ray Killen.
Today began gloriously with a wonderful breakfast alongside Justin Allegri to the groaning sounds of Justin Perry laying in bed because he had been puking all through the night.
Our first stop of the day was the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. King’s assasination. Standing nearly below the balcony where his body lay, covered in blood, with Rev. Kyles standing over him, I had to stop and just simply glance and observe. No pictures. No videos. No talk. Just witness.
After that, I took and collected many pictures (inlcuding some with Q-Bear for Miss. Pavlos’s first grade class) at the Lorraine Motel and we left Tennessee for Mississippi.
We went on a driving excursion to visit the sites involving Emmett Till: funeral home, courtyard, and the grocery store where he allegedly whistled at a white woman. Each site had its own history and was heart wrenching.
After a long day with no lunch, we finally made it to Olive Garden at about 9:30 p.m. and we STUFFED ourselves with breadsticks and tasty food.
Night and morning.
-Carlos A. Moreno, photojournalist
After a long exhausting flight and getting our interviews completed with Rev. Billy Kyles, the group had a chance to scope the night life in downtown Memphis, Tenn. What we saw was an exciting city full of life, culture and character like none I’ve seen in California. It was a perfect welcome to the city of blues and jazz —and great food, let’s not forget about that.
-Carlos A. Moreno, photojournalist