By William F. Winter and Myrlie Evers-Williams
For the Daily Journal
June is a month marked by bitter and tragic memories for those of us Mississippians who were living here in this Deep South state some 40 years ago. It was in June, 1963 that civil rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in the carport of his Jackson home.
The following June three brave young Americans, two white and one black, were murdered along a dark highway in Neshoba County. All were involved in the pursuit of the elusive goal of breaking down the barriers of racial discrimination and injustice.
Now another June has come to our state, and while some of that elusive goal remains unattained, we are reminded of how far we have progressed from the violent days of the 1960s. In Neshoba County this week state and local officials are bringing to trial one of those believed to have been involved in the terror inflicted on black people in that turbulent era. This has come about because, after years of inaction, a coalition of people of all races has come together in that community to insist that justice finally be done.
Achieving that sort of progress has been made possible not by grandiose political pronouncements and pious resolutions but by the determined and almost unnoticed efforts of countless people of all races working quietly together in their communities all over the region to build a livable society.
Helping to create an atmosphere of trust and understanding where such cooperation is possible has been the mission of the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi and the Medgar Evers Institute of Jackson. These organizations working together have begun to point the way toward the achievement of the ultimate objectives of getting rid of racial prejudice and the attainment of racial equity.
We are not so naâ€¢ve as to think that this will ever be easy, but we are also not so cynical as to believe that it cannot be done. Indeed if our region and our nation are to realize their full potential, all of us must join in eliminating the areas of continuing racial injustice and in the improvement of the social, educational and economic conditions that contribute to unequal opportunities.
As our nation becomes increasingly racially diverse, there is no more important task in which we can be involved. That is why the work of these two organizations is so vital, for they are showing the way through innovative education, convening people of good will, helping to unify communities and promoting reconciliation through candid but rational dialogue.
It would not have seemed possible 40 Junes ago that such a process could ever be successfully undertaken in Neshoba County. Now that it is, we can find there in that once embattled community an inspiring model for others around the country.
And we can find in the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and the Medgar Evers Institute the collaborative forces for meaningful progress. They are not ivory-towered think tanks. They exist and serve in the real world. They are about the future of Mississippi and America.
William Winter was governor of Mississippi from 1980 to 1984 and Myrlie Evers-Williams is the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers.