Day 3 – Civil Rights Tour of the South – Part 2
From Philadelphia, MS we traveled to Greenwood, MS and had the honor of meeting with Mississippi State Senator David Jordan and Rev. Calvin Collins of the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church. Jordan is a deacon at the church, and has lived in and around Greenwood his entire life. He told his story, which included multiple instances of facing verbal and physical punishments of racism.
Before he began his speech, Rev. Collins introduced Jordan and dropped some pearls of wisdom for us. For each of these men I will give a summary of what they experienced, and then let their quotes speak for themselves.
Reverend Calvin Collins:
- “Experiences and decisions make us who we are.”
- “Will my experiences make me better or bitter?”
Senator Jordan shared his story with the students. He was the son of a sharecropper. Although he worked on a farm, he valued education and came to Greenwood to make sure he could go to school. As a young man he worked and recalled getting beaten up by some white customers while on the job. He remembered the people in the store laughing at him as he was crying in pain, and at that point he said that he wanted to get even. It wasn’t going to be through physically fighting back, but by not leaving Mississippi until things changed.
Jordan took the route of education, graduating from high school and moving on to college at Mississippi Valley State. Ultimately he studied science and became a science teacher. After retiring as a teacher, he moved into politics and has held his senatorial position since 1992.
During his time in college he came back to observe the trial of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant in the murder of Emmett Till. Jordan is one of the few people still alive who observed the trial, and reporters have been seeking him out to speak to him about it in the wake of the case being reopened this week.
David Jordan quotes:
- I didn’t know what I would do, but I knew there had to be a change, and I knew I had to be a part of it.”
- “God has been good to me. I’ve been blessed.”
- “What affects people anywhere affects people everywhere.”
- “Just grow up and enjoy your childhood days. Don’t be in a hurry.”
- “My greatest achievement was that I got away from the cotton field and got an education.”
- “I love that I was able to help people. Life is about serving others, even if they hate or dislike you.”
On observing the Emmett Till trial –
- “I had no idea that history was being made.”
- “I’m standing on the back of Emmett Till.” (in regards to his ability to have done everything he had the opportunity to do)
On the state of the current civil rights movements-
- “It’s your baby now, we’re just going to help you rock it. We marched, we fought, it’s your turn now.”
After leaving Senator Jordan and Reverend Collins, we first stopped at a nearby park in Greenwood, where Stokely Carmichael gave his “Black Power Speech.” Carmichael helped organize an outpost of the “March Against Fear” and in his speech he uttered the phrase “We want black power” 5 times. From there we drove 8 miles to Money, MS, which was the site of Emmett Till’s murder. We drove to the former site of Bryant’s store, which was where Till reportedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, breaking the Jim Crow codes of the south. Bryant’s husband and his step-brother found Tlll three days later and beat and killed him.
What stood out to many of the students was the fact that the store is gone, and has overgrown foliage on the site. There is a plaque, but nothing else indicating the gravity of the events that took place there.
We ended the night with another roundtable discussion. Since I’ve written so much, I’m just going to add some important insight from our students. The speakers we had throughout the course of the day were by far the most referenced aspects.
- It stood out that in all of the speakers we heard today, that all of them were so calm in telling their stories. Nobody was really sad, even though they were speaking of horrible atrocities.
- Many were struck by the grocery store, and how it is not maintained, almost like they just want to forget.
- A student brought up another quote from Rev. Collins – “You need to choose if you are stuck, or if you will keep going.”
- One student was struck by Jordan’s push for education as the way to be successful and change the world. She wanted to know why there are some people who don’t value their education and what we could do to change it.
- One student reflected about how blessed we all are today, and how we take things for granted in our current world.
- Everybody struggles.
- We also had some students really focus on the idea of forgiving. They could not understand how these speakers could forgive through such horrible events, and are unsure if they could at this point in their lives.