JACKSON, Miss. – As Mississippi schools are increasing efforts to teach civil rights history, they could turn to people who are still living, and whose memories are still sharp, for firsthand accounts of what it was like to challenge segregation in the Jim Crow South.
These are the kinds of lessons that bring history to life.
Tougaloo College, in north Jackson, was a hub of activism in the 1960s. The private, historically black college has been sponsoring events this summer to let high school and college students hear civil rights veterans talk about integrating all-white venues such as libraries, lunch counters and waiting areas of bus stations.
“They fought for what we just call first-class citizenship,” said Delores Bolden Stamps, Tougaloo’s vice president for institutional advancement.
Stamps led a discussion May 29 with a panel that included Euvester Simpson of Jackson, who was jailed with Fannie Lou Hamer in June 1963 for challenging segregation at the bus station in Winona, Miss.; James Bradford of Jackson, who was jailed in March 1961 as part of the Tougaloo Nine, a group of black students who sat down to study at the all-white Jackson Municipal Library; and Joan Trumpauer Mulholland of Arlington, Va., a white Tougaloo student who participated in the May 1963 sit-in at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth’s in downtown Jackson.
Simpson, an Itta Bena native, became active in the civil rights movement when she was a high school student in the Delta. She later graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson, but said she feels a connection to Tougaloo.
“I wanted to change conditions that I lived in,” Simpson recalled. “I wanted change not only for myself. I wanted it for my parents.”
BEATEN BY BLACKS
On June 9, 1963, Simpson was one of 10 black people returning to Mississippi from a voter-registration workshop in South Carolina. Hamer remained on the bus during a stop in Winona, Miss., while Simpson and others went into the station. Some went to the restroom, and others entered the white side of the restaurant.
All were arrested, including 46-year-old Hamer. Simpson, still a teenager, was put in a cell with Hamer.
During the next several days, people in their group were beaten repeatedly – beatings that, according to Hamer, were done by black jail trustees under order from white deputies. On June 12, hours after Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his Jackson home, a group from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference got Hamer, Simpson and the others out of jail.
Hamer later became nationally famous for helping challenge the seating of Mississippi’s all-white delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention and for saying she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of waiting for equal treatment.
She died of cancer in 1977.
*Pictured above is the late Fannie Lou Hamer.