Letters from Jackson: Day 1
JWA's Etta King is in Jackson, Mississippi this week to attend a conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Following in the tradition of other Northerners who went South, she is writing me a letter each day to reflect on her experiences there. I hope you find them as educational and entertaining as I do. —Tara
When I exited the airport in Jackson I couldn't help but feel as if I was walking on hallowed ground. The air was thick and the dense grass crunched under my feet—it really feels different here. The song "Strange Fruit" played softly through my mind as we drove through the flat, open land past trees that look different enough from home to make me feel a little out of place. As you well know, I have always been fascinated by the Civil Rights Movement. I feel like this part of our history sheds light on our proudest and darkest moments as a nation. Mississippi was (and continues to be) a battle ground for testing the ideals and laws that supposedly govern the United States, and I sort of feel like I am on a pilgrimage to witness this crucial part of our history.
The first thing that struck me about the Freedom50 Conference (celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer) was the people. There are high school and college students here sitting in sessions along side seasoned movement veterans. Everyone is friendly—undoubtedly rooted in the Movement culture that focuses on developing close relationships with others. Everyone is deeply committed to realizing the vision of justice and equality that was the focus of the Movement fifty years ago. Any time a conversation is taking place and someone new walks up, the circle opens for them. Everyone has a voice, and people challenge one another's ideas without aggression.
My day was really framed by something that Derrick Johnson (of the NAACP) said at the opening plenary. In a fiery, take-us-to-church speech, he said: "In a democracy, our currency is our vote. And people who control the capital don't want you to use your currency." I'm not sure I hold the same steadfast faith in our democratic system as he, or as many of the original Freedom Summer volunteers, but his words did remind me that fighting racism, economic, and educational inequity requires looking beyond interpersonal conflict and identifying the larger systems that oppress us all on different levels.
I'm thinking already about tomorrow. So many of the veterans here are eager to share their stories and are excited to invite us into the Movement they have built. I don't usually feel like I am doing anything to make the world better (I know that is a gross oversimplification of justice work), but here there is hope and energy that just makes it impossible not to "get on board." More than that, there are people here who are doing new things, real things, that have the power to shift the way that power and opportunity are distributed in our country. More on that tomorrow.
Yours from the humid South,
How to cite this page
Heisler , Etta King. "Letters from Jackson: Day 1." 26 June 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 5, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/letters-from-jackson-day-1>.