Watching Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant host a crowded bipartisan, multi-racial and faith-based event at the Governor’s Mansion on March 8 that included Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams was an intriguing experience.
Back in 1964, Mississippi twice prosecuted Byron De La Beckwith for the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. In both trials, the all–white, all–male juries deadlocked and failed to reach a verdict.
During the second trial, jurors saw – and Myrlie Evers saw – Gov. Ross Barnett shake hands with Beckwith in the courtroom prior to their deliberations. In that era, it seemed unlikely that Mrs. Evers would ever voluntarily attend – much less as an honored guest introduced by Gov. Bryant – a social event at the mansion.
Bryant hosted the Faith and Politics Institute’s 2014 Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage delegation at the mansion for a reception prior to a banquet at the Old Capitol Inn. The group traveled from the Mississippi Delta to Jackson and then on to Selma, Ala., where they commemorated the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge with former Freedom Rider and now U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
In his welcome to the group, Bryant spoke of the honor he felt in hosting Mrs. Ever-Williams and Rep. Lewis in “the people’s home” and said: “We are not yet where we need to be (on matters of racial reconciliation), but we have come so far.”
Mississippi congressional delegation members U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R–Tupelo, and U.S. Reps. Gregg Harper, R–Pearl, Alan Nunnelee, R–Tupelo, and Bennie Thompson, D–Bolton, all took part in the event, along with leaders from the state’s major universities, some members of the clergy and members of the state’s business community
Members of Congress attending the event included: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R–Va.; House and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D–Md., and more than a dozen other members.
National guests of the Faith and Politics Institute included many whose lives were touched by civil rights movement in Mississippi. For me, the high point of the evening was an opportunity to visit with David Goodman, the brother of Freedom Summer volunteer Andrew Goodman. Andrew Goodman was murdered in my home Neshoba County in 1964 along with Michael Schwerner and James Chaney by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
David Goodman is president of the Andrew Goodman Foundation and is a principal of North Arrows LLC, which specializes in power and energy investments. It is both ironic and hopeful that the FBI headquarters in Jackson is now housed in a building that bears the name of Goodman’s slain brother and the friends who died with him. But David Goodman – who has been to the state a number of times prior to the event at the Governor’s Mansion last week – is a man who has made his peace with Mississippi and seemed to genuinely enjoy the gathering.
Earlier in the day, the group visited the scene of the assassination of Medgar Evers in the presence of his widow and his daughter. Myrlie Evers–Williams, 81, said: “Today has been an amazing day. I have seen the glory of the coming of Mississippi’s future.”
After the reception, the group went to the Old Capitol Inn and heard a group of speakers that included Mrs. Evers, Rep. Lewis, and former Gov. William Winter. Winter, 91, remains an eloquent voice for the issues he’s championed over a lifetime – public education, racial reconciliation and economic opportunity for all Mississippians.
At the close of an evening of food and fellowship, Winter echoed Bryant’s earlier sentiments and said: “We have come a long way. I’m more optimistic than I have ever been about the future of Mississippi.”
On the same day, Jackson mourned the passing of the city’s third consecutive black mayor.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507–8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.