By NEMS Daily Journal
Gov. Haley Barbour’s apology to Civil Rights activists – imprisoned at Mississippi’s notorious Parchman prison a half century ago for their efforts to desegregate interstate travel in our state – was a worthy expression from his high office, and on behalf of the people of our state.
You might argue that an apology was overdue, but it is never too late to further the cause of “atonement and reconciliation.” These powerful words were invoked in the governor’s face-to-face visit with a group of Freedom Riders, who had come to Jackson to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1961 protest which helped to knock down barriers that had long separated blacks and whites on buses and other areas of public accommodation in Mississippi and beyond.
“We apologize to you for your mistreatment in 1961, and we appreciate this chance for atonement and reconciliation,” the Governor told his guests at a dinner in Jackson.
Barbour also hosted the reunion participants at a breakfast at the Governor’s Mansion, a simple courtesy that would not have been possible here in an earlier day.
Hezekiah Watkins said Barbour’s comments reflect how times have changed.
“Fifty years ago, I was arrested for marching around the Governor’s Mansion. This morning, I was able to go on the grounds,” Watkins said. “I applaud the governor for his efforts, although it should have been done some time ago and it wasn’t.”
Perhaps the great message of these two eras in our history is that change, really positive change, has come to our state, and that while the relations between us are still imperfect, progress has been steady, and we have come far from the days of strife that were remembered this week.
The governor also paid a fitting tribute to those who fought for the Civil Rights of all Americans, thanking them for their “courage, your commitment, your sufferings and your sacrifices of 50 years ago … It is good we are rid of segregation, and we are right grateful for the role you played in helping us get there.”
Very well said, and appreciated by those he represents who share those convictions.
- Sun Herald, Biloxi/Gulfport