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,