What started out as typical day on a drive to Itta Bena, (a place that I had never visited before), turned into an amazing experience. It became a day and evening of learning, discovery, reflection and reaffirming my belief that all of us, working together, can make a difference in life.
I drove around the campus of Mississippi Valley State, a historically black University. It is located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta where 34 percent of the black population of the state is located. Looking at that campus from the highway, it appeared as a beacon of hope for students, even though it was surrounded by miles of field land that probably was the site of plantations at one time. I thought about all of those who had an opportunity to attend that college in the ’50s and ’60s when blacks could not attend other colleges.
Since I was so close to Indianola, we, (my daughter and sister-in-law, Louise), decided to visit the B.B. King Museum that I had heard so much about. As I walked through that incredible museum, I learned so much about history. I learned that one of the white cotton plantation owners that Mr. King worked for, entreated and respected him as a man and called him by his name, Riley – not Boy – as was typical in that era. I learned B.B. King quietly donated money to the civil rights cause and helped make a tremendous difference.
Later that evening, I attended a program sponsored by the Northeast Mississippi Alumni Chapter of Alcorn State University (ASU) in Tupelo. I learned that in 1871, it was recommended that Alcorn be established and supported by the state for the education of blacks in Mississippi. One of Alcorn’s notable graduates was civil rights activist Medgar Evers.
Master of Ceremony John Jones, talked about the statue of Evers erected at Alcorn in June of 2013, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Evers death. He said, “Alumni and guests came from all over the world to recognize Evers’ contributions to American society… Our guest speaker was very much involved and instrumental in attaining this statue.”
We were then entertained by musical selections from a cadre of ASU young black men. Jones said to the crowd of about 300, “I wish there were more people here who could see all of these young men who are being educated at ASU. This counteracts the negative images that young black men are portrayed as.”
Guest speaker Wilbert James, president of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant of Kentucky, and recently named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America, spoke about his history. He talked about his family and the encouragement received from his parents as a young boy growing up.They instilled in him a “spirit of helping others.” He said his mother was known in the neighborhood as one who would help anybody and his father helped his mother. He recalled as a boy, a young white lady came to their house and asked for Mrs. James. His mother came out onto the porch. The young lady said to her, “I need help – will you help me? I have a child and I don’t have any place to go.” After listening to her story, his mother told her to go get her belongings and bring the child as well. Wilbert had to give up his room for months so that the young lady and her child could have a place to stay. Bringing us back to the present, James said, “It takes all of us helping one another.”
Jones eloquently concluded the program by saying, “In the Olympics, when you see Russia – you see all white men marching behind their flag; when you see China, you see all Chinese marching…; when you see Jamaica, you see all Jamaicans marching…; when you see Japan, you see all Japanese marching…; but when you see the USA, you see white men; black men; Hispanics; and others marching behind our flag.” What an epiphany!
Does it take all of us working together to make a difference in our history? You be the judge.
Juanita Gambrell Floyd is vice president for Finance and Administration at CREATE Foundation. Contect her at firstname.lastname@example.org.