Mississippians commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Freedom Summer most often are reminded of the violence, including murder, inflicted on some of the activists who stood up to the status quo, demanding the right to vote, public access, integrated schools and full justice under law.
In a broader view, hundreds of separate events contributed to the larger cause and advanced the idea that all people within the American dream must have equal rights, equal treatment and equal opportunity under law.
In Tupelo, what’s known as the March of Discontent registered the grievances of the black community for civil rights. It was stopped by a barricade of police and, as earlier reported, a disturbance broke out and the RC Cola bottling plant’s windows were broken.
Last weekend, a marker was placed by the Convention and Visitors Bureau at the intersection of Frankin and Springs streets, where the march ended. Two landmarks were at that site, the Dixie Belle Theater and the RC Cola bottling plant. The movie house has become a church and the RC Cola building is the law office of Kenneth Mayfield, a Tupelo attorney who was prominent in civil rights marches and protests during the late 1970s.
Those long ago goals have in part been fulfilled. The right to vote is guaranteed. Integrated schools have been a fact since the late 1960s. Minority hiring remains an issue in some sectors, but progress is measurable.
Mayor Jason Shelton, along with Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Neal McCoy, Councilwoman Nettie Davis and Mayfield unveiled the marker.
“As a community it’s always important to know where you came from and the history of the community as you look to the future and where we’re going from here,” Shelton said.
“It’s with pride today we’re standing here on this hallowed ground marking an area where there could have been bloodshed but it was avoided,” Mayfield said of the two marches. “I think that is attributed to the leaders of Tupelo.”
Fifty years is ancient history as measured by many people, but its importance as a time of change for the better is invaluable.
Unmet goals remain a challenge, but unity and good will make hurdling them possible and probable.
(The March of Discontent marker is the fourth Civil Rights and African-American Heritage Trail marker in the Heritage Trails Enrichment Program.)